It’s interstellar friends and foes in this week’s CW/DC TV roundup!
Another Supergirl episode focusing on its own dynamic. Thank you so much. This is a Thanksgiving episode which *begins* at Thanksgiving dinner rather than *ends* with it. No criticism or comment beyond that, it’s just kind of rare to see it done like that on a TV show is all. This episode marks the return of Barry to the Supergirl universe, but also the addition of Cisco. That isn’t what makes the episode notable though. Cadmus attacks the alien bar with a virus that is only deadly to aliens. The bar has become a notable locale and since a lot of the positive messages of coexistence that are included in Supergirl’s subtext settle around that bar, the attack is truly devastating. As the origin of the virus is revealed though, the ugly xenophobic underbelly of Krypton’s ideal society, which has been a common theme of the second season, puts Kara at odds with her work as Supergirl and the values instilled in her by her birth parents. Of course the irony of Krypton’s xenophobia powering Lillian’s vendetta draws a fascinating parallel between Kara’s parents and Cadmus, thereby creating an intriguing connection for Lena and Kara that is reminiscent of the relationship that developed between Clark and Lex in the series Smallville. I’ll admit that I was worried that they were planning on torpedoing Lena, but by the end I could see the value in using her how they did. I look forward to seeing how she and Kara’s relationship evolves. I believe the humanizing, so to speak, of the aliens living in National City is what makes the episode so sympathetic. The multishot of the different alien species living around National City reacting to the explosion puts the coexistence dynamic in to perspective. Given the current political climate, Supergirl’s condemnation of fear-mongering and profiling of foreign entities might be considered a political statement but like “Welcome to Earth” it weaves this message in to its own narrative without leaning on negativity or stereotyping. Admittedly the whole thing gets to happy-go-lucky for its own good. A simple solution (pun!) takes care of multiple problems that have cropped up, and Superman’s absence is especially odd considering how heavily the Fortress of Solitude is used. “Medusa’s” moral though is that not all aliens are bad, and that calling them evil just because they’re different and we know nothing about them is irresponsible and not at all a hero’s way; and we can all learn a great deal by following the example of our favorite heroes. Now then…who’s ready for three nights of our favorite heroes beating up aliens that we know nothing about! Yay!
Believe it or not, aliens aren’t even the most interesting thing happening in the Flash’s “Invasion!” Looks like Legends was teasing Barry’s secret message for a very good reason, namely till everyone was together to hear it. Surprisingly enough, it’s a message relating to further fallout caused by Flashpoint. The tendrils of this change have burrowed beneath the skin of all of the TV shows of the Arrowverse, but I truly underestimated how deep they went. The show of the night is indeed a hardcore sci-fi one though, and as such I can’t discount just how classic 50’s era alien menace the atmosphere is. Take us to your leader, resistance is futile, laser weapons, mind control; this one puts an X in all the boxes. It’s amazing to see everyone together for it, and they’ve successfully integrated the drama of the last couple of Flash episodes in to the *They Came From Beyond the Stars* mix. In fact, this feels more like Justice League than anything DC has put to live-action before. The physical interpretation of the Dominators is very close to the DC Comics’ version, but the episode portrays them as an amoral throwaway mass that only exists to oppose the heroes and act as barely sentient green skinned nazis, (like Koopas or zombies.) There’s no need to read any source material to figure them out, especially if you’ve watched a sci-fi movie between nineteen-fifty and now. However, the humor and friction between the heroes picks up the slack left by the lackluster opposition. These characters are well known and loved and the banter, shop-talk, and drama between them is why they have gained that admiration. So while the episode doesn’t skimp on the super-powered fight scenes, the conversations are where the real intrigue lies. Other highlights: Wally prepares to suit up but clearly needs more time, but this is a worthwhile arc for the character and a more significant role for Keiynan Lonsdale that also includes branching paths for Iris, Joe, and HR. Cisco and Barry continue to feud, and the best part of the story is that it’s reasonable for Cisco to be as mad at Barry as he is. The whole episode really casts Barry in a tragic-hero role, and it’s one that Grant Gustin suffers with both dignity and emotion, making this an episode of both sympathy and depth…and aliens…and the Hall of Justice.
Maybe this installment could be considered somewhat of an intermission in the alien attack series. Arrow goes full Moore as Oliver is treated to his very own “For the Man Who Has Everything” situation. It’s been 10 years since The Queen’s Gambit didn’t go down, and Oliver surrounded by his family and friends is ready to marry his childhood sweetheart, Laurel Lance; in the hallucination that he, Ray, Dig, Thea, and Sara share anyway. Meanwhile, the rest of Team Arrow (sans Evelyn) along with Cisco Ramon are trying to figure out their location to rescue them. They end up bringing in Supergirl and Flash when a cyborg scientist named Laura Washington (Erica Luttrell) is revealed to be holding the key to unlocking intel hidden in the alien’s tech. We keep going over the same old ground during “Invasion!” First mind control and now alien stasis complete with the not exactly perfect simulation and the whole Twilight Zone/Star Trek “None of this feels right…” atmosphere. It’s the property and characters that make it compelling. Arrow is on its fifth season, which means four-plus years of drama, suspense, and tragedy to recognize, and it’s a well that “Invasion!” is especially adept at pulling from. This is achieved by bringing back former series regulars Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy) and Moira Queen (Susanna Thompson) and even Robert Queen (Jamey Sheridan). The insight in to how Oliver views his life without the influence of the island is a tragic realization in to how heavy the burden of Green Arrow actually is to him. Stephen Amell, Willa Holland, and Caity Lotz all turn out especially emotional performances as Oliver, Thea, and Sara are all subjected to the life they could have had, and yet will never have the chance to again. The big fight in the garden of Queen Manor against three of the four season big bads, Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman), Slade Wilson (previously Manu Bennett but he did not reprise his role for this episode), and Damien Darhk (Neal McDounough) punctuates the intensely personal episode, infusing the fight with both drama and purpose. The fight itself is brilliantly directed by James Bamford, toeing the line between realism and superheroism and utilizing all the pieces to put together a near-flawless sequence with an emotional connection. The B-team events are less effective. An interesting interlude relating to Rene’s prejudice against powers is touched on and has potential, but is so easily resolved that it almost seems pointless. A daring space-faring escape from the mothership though gets the ball rolling just in time for Legends.
Arrow’s foray in to catharsis left Legends in quite the bind since there wasn’t a lot of information about the Dominators revealed in The Flash; but considering that Legends only had 45 minutes to wrap up all of “Invasion!” this episode is masterful. The episode budgets both its time and cast. Exposition and new information is prioritized, while emotional side-stories are given to Carlos Valdes and Victor Garber in order to reach satisfying conclusions to both of their characters’ struggles. There’s also a micro arc involving Oliver’s distrust of Supergirl that is a realistic aside for the character. The episode however splits in to two major storylines, separating the team likewise. Mick, Nate, Amaya, Felicity, and Cisco all go back in time to the Dominators’ first attack in order to learn more about their tactics, motivation, and abilites. This storyline comes along naturally, despite being hinted at in The Flash, and makes effective use of Legends’ narrative tools to highlight both the weirdness and charm of the show. It plays the heaviest on the sci-fi cliches, out of all the episode’s different storylines, but it uses its colorful characters to create contrasts rather than relying on the tropes outright as crutches. The episode tries to tie in Cisco’s forgiveness of Barry’s actions in to the whole “Invasion!” conflict but the only thing that makes it work is Carlos Valdes’ acting and his emotional realization of the weight on changing the past; besides that the connection is poorly conveyed and lacks a solid foundation. The second major storyline is the team’s encounter with the mysterious men in black that reveal the motivation behind the Dominators’ attack, and their price for sparing the planet. I found this the most fascinating of all the episode’s storylines because it really highlighted the incredible power that Barry wields, and the threat that the power can seemingly pose to universal stability. It complicated the Dominators’ role as straight up villains and made great strides in expanding the scale of the Arrowverse.
Wow, been a while since I needed a second paragraph but this episode has a staggering amount of information in it. Victor Garber shines as Martin experiences conflicts from both his new role as a father and a defender of the timeline; and while Lily Stein’s dialogue is based entirely around revealing information about her character and is usually awkward and clunky, Christina Brucato still plays the role earnestly with charm and charisma. Unfortunately this storyline also delegates Caitlin back to the role of buffer, but it’s only been one episode since “Killer Frost” so maybe this was just a narrative necessity rather than a descent in to old habits. After all that it’s all about the big fight, and it’s the event that everyone’s been waiting for; Aliens VS Superheroes! And it’s honestly pretty good. Obviously there are some flaws inherent in the programming, but looking past those should be a cinch for fans of any of the series featured. The plan the team decides on is given enough spotlight, that watching it hatch is both rewarding and organic. It utilizes all of the parts present to make sure that not one aspect is given second billing (besides Cisco but he’s funny so no complaints here).
Final Word: “Invasion!” is the Justice League in everything but name, and that’s the biggest and most exciting part of this whole thing. Fans have already proven their dedication to the DC/CW TV anthology by tuning in week after week to show their support and this just goes to show that that support has not been in vain. Hopefully the Arrowverse continues to expand, and while no one can be certain of what the future holds “Invasion!” proves that at least this aspect of the DC Universe is looking towards the stars.