[Editor’s Note: This review may contain spoilers]
Director: James Bamford
Writers: Marc Guggenheim, Caroline Dries, Sarah Tarkoff, Emilio Ortega Aldrich, and Tonya Kong
Starring: Stephen Amell, David Ramsey, Emily Bett Rickards, Echo Kellum, Kirk Acevedo, Grant Gustin, Danielle Panabaker, Carlos Valdes, Tyler Hoechlin, Melissa Benoist, Ruby Rose, LaMonica Garret, Bob Frazer, Cassandra Jeam-Amell, Liam Hall, John Wesley Shipp, Jeremy Davies
Still trapped in each other’s bodies, Oliver and Barry go to Gotham City with Supergirl to hunt down the guilty party and get more than they bargained for in the form of Batwoman; Earth-90 Flash contacts Team Arrow and Team Flash to warn them of The Monitor.
The second part of Elseworlds picks up immediately where things left off, and what works is that it didn’t ignore the current dilemma Oliver is facing in his marriage. What also worked was the intro – with actual scenes reshot for effect – being done by Grant Gustin, not Stephen Amell, to further cement the notion to viewers just tuning in that things are not right before the first part is recapped briefly. Grant is a lucky guy having to kiss Emily Bett Rickards for the second time. This also offers fans the chance to see how these two would’ve looked if Barry and Felicity had actually become an official couple when they were still flirting with each other between Arrow season two and The Flash season one. However, like Oliver, he is quick to notice that things are extremely different about his best friend.
We also see Caitlin weigh in on Felicity’s situation, which I liked, especially when Oliver is repeating the same behavior that put them in this place to begin with. She sees that both Oliver and Felicity are letting the past six months affect their relationship and forgetting the love that they still share. Oliver wants the old Felicity back, and this new version wants him to take her as she is. For someone who is had to change his entire being just to survive, as his wife has now done, Oliver seems very hypocritical when analysis is applied. She isn’t the same IT girl he visited at Queens Consolidated all those years ago, and she has had to make extreme sacrifices revolving around a decision he did not consult her on. Despite very abnormal circumstances, the resolution between the two feels right and genuine. It’s a step in the right direction but he’s too and I hope that it’s a journey as opposed to a one shot course correction.
The biggest star in this installment is not the big three, but rather Gotham city itself. The Arrowverse has finally found a way to incorporate it into their reality and did so in a way that the circumstances are understandable. Further, is done so in a way that does not violate Warner Bros.’ rules about not having Batman on TV. Without Batman, the city has fallen into corruption and chaos during a three-year downward spiral. What also works is that they have enhanced the urban myth element in his persona that makes him effective at his job. In fact, his elusiveness is to the point where neither Oliver nor Barry have had any encounters with him and no proof that he even exists. Stephen got to inject humor by exhibiting jealous outrage at the possibility that he didn’t start the vigilante genre. And, since we already have Dick Grayson in Titans and none of the Robins are old enough, in steps Kate Kane, a.k.a. Batwoman, the black sheep of the Bat-family.
Australian actress Ruby Rose does a great job in setting up the premise for what may be a future CW series, which will take place on earth one shared by Arrow and The Flash. While the creative liberty of making her Bruce Wayne’s cousin is risky to both comic fans and Supergirl fans, Bruce Wayne would not entrust his family’s company to just anyone, so it seems a natural fit. The nod to Adam West in his old office was nostalgic. The writers’ choice to keep Bruce’s reasons for abandoning his city clandestine leaves it open for future riders to fill the gap if and when a Batwoman series does get the greenlight. The costume department nailed the suit; it’s a very believable translation of the comic book counterpart. The effects team even did something that the Bat-films by Christopher Nolan nor the current DCEU started by Zack Snyder, and that is make the Batarang an actual boomerang again. The producers and set designers did a fantastic job in throwing in enough elements for Batman fans to recognize this as Gotham. From Arkham Asylum, to the gangland territory, to a corrupt police department, and finally to the Wayne Enterprises headquarters, there are enough classic elements to validate Kate’s “five layers of hell” description.
Another good idea on the writing team’s part was to set up the frenemy relationship between she and Supergirl, right down to them figuring out each other‘s secret identities. The current dilemma of Kara’s decision to not reveal her secret identity to the President was also a cleverly-concealed white elephant that she’s trying to relate to Bruce’s decision to leave. I did also notice a little bit of flirting with Kara on Kate’s part, which also works. Ruby and Melissa already have great chemistry together and look forward to them sharing future scenes. So, this is The CW version of the worlds finest right down to the handshake. Well done.
The fight choreography that the series is renowned for never disappoints and it didn’t here either. Whether it’s the opening attempted take down of Kane Wolfman, the Arkham breakout attempt that our heroes engaged in, or the minor scuffle between Barry and the gang that tries to rob them, everything felt crisp and grounded. David Ramsey had a larger role in this installment as opposed to the first chapter, and that is a relief. Team Arrow had to be brought in, for both footwork and tech support. What also worked was that they ignored the larger amount of time required to understand the situation that the first part had spent in Central City. Grant does a fantastic job with martial arts choreography, which probably stems from his dance background. You can actually feel that he has his best friend’s fighting skills.
The decision to make them fight again under the influence of Dr. Jonathan Crane’s Fear Gas was both good for the fans and also an in-depth look at how far this reality-bending goes. It seems as though even the fear gas is fooled by the body swap given that Barry thought he was fighting Malcolm Merlyn while Oliver was seeing the Reverse-Flash. Their bodies are the same, yet their minds are swapped; it leads one to wonder whether their physical beings know who they’re supposed to be even if it’s a different personality minding the shop. It also lead to a better mutual understanding between these two who seem like oil and water on the surface.
Making the minor antagonist, Dr. John Deegan, a psychiatrist working at Arkham was a perfect fit. The best villains actually believe they are doing good for the world, and none are more crazier than a delusional Arkham psychiatrist. Jeremy Davies’s deliveries are brief, yet they’re enough to convey the sense that he’s completely unrepentant. In his rose-colored delusion, he has been given a magic book to make all of his theories reality and is not even questioning the possibility that he is manipulated.
Like other pawns before him, such as Sebastian Blood, he thinks he’s in control and yet he’s only a cog in an agenda his benefactor neglected to reveal. And given that he has again rewritten reality and depowered Barry and Oliver and empowered – and resurrected – some of Oliver’s enemies as CCPD officers – including it remains to be seen where the speed force and the abilities of the Emerald archer wound up this time. Further, how he managed to incorporate Earth-38’s Superman into this plot, now garbed in a black costume, and what it means for Kara. I have to say, because I detest that design, it works better in black than the traditional colors. (Side note: the return of John Barrowman as Malcolm was expected as a hallucination and moreso as a police officer.)
The Monitor himself and his abilities are brilliantly demonstrated in that confrontation scene. What we thought would be an epic battle only lasted a few minutes, and his monologue again provided the motif of the villain being the hero of his own story. He’s enforcing natural selection by causing chaos as preparation for a looming, unnamed threat.
The way the writers incorporated the 1990s version of The Flash, again played by John Wesley Shipp, was very clever and hearkened back to the original 1984 Crisis On Infinite Earths storyline that saw the death of Barry Allen. The Crisis has been billed as Earth-1 Barry’s final fate through that 2024 headline at S.T.A.R. Labs’ Time Vault. The season finale of the second season of The Flash saw a time remnant of Barry make a similar sacrifice as his comic book counterpart to stop the collapse of the multi-verse. Even in that article, red skies were reported just as those very skies are covering the Earth right now. It is therefore reasonable to assume that elements from this crossover will also carry over into that event. Hell, even Psycho-Pirate made a cameo, and he played a role in that story as well.
The aftermath of that sacrifice has been the focal point of The Flash’s fifth season, as his daughter from the future is here to learn how to prevent her father vanishing. Having him be the focal point for the main protagonists for an explanation as to what the monitor is up to was brilliant. His old theme playing in the background was very nostalgic; it was through his version of The Flash in 1990 that I first learned about the character in general. They re-created his original costume perfectly and even took note that he is an older man and therefore his physique is different, so the high neck had to go. His interactions with the younger Barry Allen make her a sense since he has seen his father‘s face on more than one individual throughout the course of the series so his mistaking this version of himself as either Jay Garrick or Henry Allen was understandable. The introduction of this version of The Flash into the Arrowverse was teased a number of times before, and the wait was totally worth it.
While I was ecstatic at the return in the 1990s Flash, I thought that he was terribly underused and the first confrontation with the monitor. I hope that this is not the final appearance of the older Barry Allen because I feel it would be a waste for John’s character to just be a messenger and then magically vanished in a puff of smoke as he did. Another wasted opportunity was the fight between Nora Fries and Killer Frost. That is Cassandra Jean-Amell – yup, Stephen’s wife – as Victor Fries’s ill-fated better half. Comics fans and BTAS fans also recognize her as the reason why Victor gets accidentally turned into Mr. Freeze, so seeing Earth-1’s version be in Arkham Asylum inmate was very surprising and, to traditionalists, probably an outrage.
Regardless, given how much publicity she got, you would think that they would make more use of her character. Or maybe they are reserving her for when or if that aforementioned Batwoman series actually premieres. It would’ve been cool to see husband and wife in the same shot. I’m hoping that will get that in the future considering that both characters share the same universe.
The Freaky Friday scenario between Oliver Queen and Barry Allen continues to impress and gives both character the chance to flex both comedic and dramatic muscles they had not to this extent before in their roles. Melissa making it a three-way conversation only adds to the big laughs and the heart of this Trinity. It’s also a very strong introduction to Earth-1’s Gotham City and Batwoman, as well as a cool homage to the 1990s Flash series. The Monitor does indeed seem like a legitimate threat now and the way he is hinting at a larger threat as his motive for these actions he has taken makes him a very layered villain. Excellent chemistry and good acknowledgment of the current Arrow subplots. Looking forward to the final chapter on Supergirl!