Review: The Flash 6×09 – “Crisis on Infinite Earths Part 3”
Director: David McWhirter
Writers: Lauren Ceto and Sterling Gates
Starring: Grant Gustin, Candice Patton, Carlos Valdes, Danielle Panabaker, Hartley Sawyer, LaMonica Garrett, Tom Cavanaugh, Jon Cryer, Matt Ryan, Stephen Amell, Caity Lotz, David Ramsey, Brandon Routh, Katherine McNamara, Elizabeth Tulloch, David Harewood, Tyler Hoechlin, Cress Williams, Ruby Rose, Melissa Benoist, Ashley Scott, Audrey Marie Richardson, Osric Chau, Stephn Lobo, Tom Ellis, John Wesley Shipp, Wentworth Miller (Voice)
Pariah enlists Black Lightning as The Flash of Earth-90 returns with information about the Anti-Monitor’s weapon; Iris, Ray, and Ralph approach Ryan Choi as the next paragon; Kate faces a crucial decision; Constantine, Mia, and Diggle travel to the afterlife to find Oliver’s soul; the unexpected happens.
Ok everyone will have to give me a minute because I’m blown away on so many emotional levels. The midseason finale of The Flash, which couples with the midpoint to the massive Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover event, scores major points this week through themes of sacrifice, destiny, hope, tragedy, and salvation.
I want to start with the arrival of Black Lightning to the Arrowverse. Jefferson Pierce is on the same level as Kate in that he is recruited out of the blue with no knowledge that there is a multiverse. His earth – his series, for that matter – was separate from the over arching Arrowverse. But because it’s a DC property, it’s officially a parallel earth and therefore on the Anti-Monitor’s hitlist as multiple Earths before it. Pariah basically drafts him Monitor style without any consultation or buildup; he is blindsided by this madness as much as the revelation that his world and his family are gone. Tom Cavanaugh’s stoic and cold conveyance of this information plays off Cress’s outrage and grief perfectly. It’s with both Flash-90 and Barry that he seems to find common ground, as both have lost so much. His conversation later with Barry on The Waverider is layered as they bond in their shared grief. Both men had their worlds rocked as children, and have turned tragedy into triumph through their faith in family. Their conversation also introduces Black Lightning fans to The Flash if they haven’t watched a single episode before, and vice versa. Marketing-wise, it’s a perfect way to peak the uninformed viewers’ interests in checking out previous seasons. The quote that Jefferson offers Barry makes the handshake resonate; as the new patriarch of the Arrowverse, Barry is the right man to civilly welcome Black Lightning into the fold.
Speaking of new blood, we have Ryan Choi finally entering The Arrowverse as well. Comic fans know him as the successor to Ray as The Atom, and currently serves on Batman’s Justice League of America in a relationship with Frost. It’s an interesting choice to craft the CW version as already an established scientist and family man. Further pressure is added through his being the Paragon of Humanity. Like Ray, whom he already admires, Ryan is the everyman gifted with genius. Flash fans will also recall Nora name dropping him last year as the creator of the Flash Ring she gave to Barry. Iris is the best person to convince Ryan to come because, like him, she’s only human. And it’s in her humanity that she is at her strongest. Relating to him on the level of family shows her honesty and versatility. She is married to the paragon of Love, so it’s through love that she gets through to the young scientist to accept his destiny as the Paragon of Humanity.
Cisco’s unwanted return to his role of Vibe parallels Ryan’s conundrum. Since the conclusion of the fifth season, he has settled into a life of normalcy and a new romance with Camilla. He left the superhero life behind because he had always felt that it had been forced upon him without choice. With the metahuman cure giving him an out, he hung up his gloves and settled back into his workshop. The writers were clever in making Cisco – the biggest fan boy on the show – the most reluctant of superheroes. He had seen Barry’s ups and downs with Iris since taking up the mantle of The Flash and wanted no more complications in his life. Even when Barry had made him team leader, Cisco had never considered undoing his cure. But again, destiny intervenes in the form of The Monitor restoring Cisco to Vibe. What works is that while he is understandably infuriated at being forced back into the hero life, both his power set and what he had learned as team leader is what led to the temporary victory over the Anti-Monitor. In the end, it was his willingness to make the tough call that saved the day…briefly.
Brandon Routh blew everyone’s minds with his introduction as Earth-96 Superman – the same version that he had portrayed on the big screen in Superman Returns, which itself takes place in the reality of the Christopher Reeve Superman – and continues this week. Whether he is conveying his layered views on hope or standing there arms akimbo, it’s a fan-gasm to see this epic version brought to life…which sets up the gut punch at the end, among many which I will get to later. His monologue to Lois about the meaning behind the red-and-black crest is very telling as to what had gotten him through the most traumatic time of his life. The script almost sounds biblical and is a deviation from the original Kingdom Come story that works for this crossover event. Elizabeth leaning in to the qualities that both he and her Clark share is perfectly conveyed through her consoling tone.
Given that this is The Flash’s night, I want to focus on the penultimate destiny this season – that every season – has been leading up to. Barry has been preparing himself and his family for the reality that to for their survival, he must die. The writing team cleverly sets up the sacrifice through his final heartfelt goodbye to Iris. He also has a very poignant moment with Cisco and Caitlin; it creates feels hearing him reflect on how it all started with the three of them that day five years ago in Caitlin’s infirmary in S.T.A.R. Labs when he woke up from that 9-month coma. It was even the three of them that agreed to take on Weather Wizard 1.0 and other metahumans together. All three have grown and evolved since that day, have held each other together and brought each other back from the darkest of places. From acquaintances, to friends and fellow heroes, and finally family, this is the core Team Flash 1.0. Grant, Carlos, and Danielle all debuted on Arrow the year before, even. As much as Oliver Queen’s adventures, their journey together is one of the pillars of the Arrowverse. And that hug meant more with Frost giving Caitlin the floor. It started with the three of them, and it should end with the three of them. Cisco choosing to make the final, tough call also demonstrates that Barry made the right choice in team leader.
Speaking of, in comes Flash-90 to take one last hit for the team. When John Wesley Shipp resurrected his version of Barry Allen in last year’s “Elseworlds” crossover, I felt fans of the CBS series were cheated last year with no speed scenes with him. They even had him vanishing in a puff of smoke, and now what seemed like a waste has become the first part of his final run. Brilliant decision to make him the power source for the Anti-Monitor’s primary weapon. It also plays into why this Barry felt the need to balance the scales; although without choice, his powers were used to enable the destruction of so many worlds. The speed effects without the lightning trail, coupled with the classic Flash theme for his scenes, delivered on as much nostalgia as Brandon’s Superman. His conversation with Barry in “Flash Time” resonates because it drew not only on his being the elder speedster, but also threw in the name drop of Tina McGee, played by Amanda Pays, and that she had become his wife. While current Flash fans know her as the head of Mercury Labs, the 1990 series introduced her as the sole scientist at S.T.A.R. Labs – sans particle accelerator – that helped Barry understand his powers and his regular ally and friend. This brings us to his heroic sacrifice; while many were expecting Earth-1 Barry to die, Earth-90 Barry choosing to die in his place felt more symbolic. The body language as 90-Barry absorbed the current Flash’s speed felt akin to a father guiding his son to the floor, which felt very appropriate given John’s other roles in the current show. It truly was a close to John Wesley Shipp’s character, right down to the brief flashback of the 1990 pilot exchange between Barry and Tina about having faith in each other. Comic fans will also draw parallels between the final shot of Earth-90’s chest emblem on the ground with the shot of Barry’s Flash Ring left amongst the rubble of the Antimatter cannon. As a fan of the series myself, which was MY introduction to the world of The Flash, I teared up as I’m sure many other fans of that show did. It was truly the closing of a chapter that had been left unfairly open due to cancellation after the first season due to both cost and CBS not knowing where to place the show in the week. His final words to Earth-1 Barry were deep and meaningful, and Shipp’s calling him “son” touched the hearts of fans of his Henry Allen on the show. This completes the passing of the torch between generations. Brilliant work on the parts of all involved, and the 10-year-old kid in me that lost HIS mom months before the debut of the show will be forever grateful to Earth-90 Flash. We will all keep riding the lightning, brother. Thank you.
Kate rises as the Paragon of courage in this installment. The writers beautifully handle Kara’s arc in that she is confusing hope with desperation and becoming obsessed with it. You feel the pain in Melissa’s voice as she struggles to stay positive and self-assured. This is also the first time where you truly see The World’s Finest clash over an issue. The writers also inject a Bruce Wayne-worthy move of having Kate ready to use the kryptonite to disable Kara if she could not talk her out of the very risky move. The exchange in which she reveals her intentions, and Kara telling her to keep it and praying she would not need the courage to use it, is pulled right from the comics focused on Batman and Superman. In the comics it involved Clark entrusting Bruce with a chunk of kryptonite, knowing his powers could be corrupted and the world would need it in the right hands. It’s in that moment where Kate truly becomes Batwoman; no longer in awe or awkward around this other powerhouses, she stands firm and on equal footing with the Maiden of Might. Beautiful performances from all involved.
Now on to the gut checks. After having covered one of the biggest already, we will start with Oliver Queen’s decision in the afterlife. Just when fans expect Ollie to jump up off the stretcher and hood up, the writers throw a curve ball in the form of The Specter, played by Stephen Lobo of the NBC Constantine series. Humorous irony aside of where Oliver’s soul ended up, it makes sense that Diggle, John, and Mia would find his soul still running through Lian Yu. The supernatural element was a perfect reason for a surprise appearance from Tom Ellis in his Lucifer persona; those who weren’t in the know about it being a DC series were probably surprised. Oliver’s choice of spiritual venue bookends his conversation with Mia in the first part of the crossover. His spirit is here, right down to the Season 1 hood (although not as draping), and the fact he never takes it off oddly conveys that ghostly feel. The writers obviously took inspiration from Kevin Smith’s Quiver story, for in that plot, Oliver’s soul did not want to be reunited with his body after Hal Jordan resurrected it. In this version, however, Corrigan’s winning Ollie over with more Crisis-related reasons makes perfect sense. Stephen’s exchanges with Ramsey’s grieving Diggle gets you in the feels; these two men are brothers in spirit, so this truly feels like a goodbye. What makes it appropriately tragic is Mia vanishes just as she’s trying to tell her father that she loves him for the first time.
Then there is Harbinger as the Trojan Horse of the Anti-Monitor; Earth-90 Flash’s efforts are undone by this underhanded possession of Lyla’s body. Pariah leaving the supporting cast, and himself, to die in the antimatter wave while ensuring the paragons’ survival can be seen as his own way of atoning for unleashing the Anti-Monitor in the first place. Throughout the episode, the character has conveyed a sense of being shackled to this fate as punishment. With inspiration from the Monitor, he takes the proactive approach by saving the lives of the Paragons. Hoechlin’s calm demeanour even as he’s wiped from existence is telling; he is just as hopeful as his Earth-96 doppelganger, and does that to assure Iris that everything will be all right. The loss of the supporting cast and resources establishes a strong sense of dread to hold the viewers till the new year.
And then…there was Lex. Jon Cryer shines as this “poisonous snake”, and the final curve ball of him writing himself into the Book of Destiny at the cost of Earth-96 Superman sparks the right amount of outrage and hatred for this character. Brandon’s sudden illness and slow death is out of nowhere and immediately causes further distress after the loss of the Waverider and all of reality. Cryer’s unremorseful response of one of their most powerful players for his own survival is both funny as it is infuriating. The world’s greatest villain and notorious liar is ironically the new Paragon of Truth. In a way, Lex and Earth-96 Clark are similar in that they follow their own notions of truth. The only key difference is, of course, is one pursues the truth for the good of all while the other manipulates it to his own ends. Once more, the writing team of the Arrowverse does what the best screenwriters have failed to do: They’ve created a Lex Luthor that is the true embodiment of his multilayered comic book counterpart. Cryer has proven himself as worthy of the role as Michael Rosenbaum had been on Smallville. The cliffhanger left at that moment, when it’s only just the Paragons with no resources and one uninvited guest, is perfectly encapsulated in Lex’s final question: “So what now?”
Where the episode fails with regards to The Flash’s ultimate destiny is the scale of the Anti-Monitor’s weapon. Marv Wolfman’s original story saw the Antimatter Cannon huge in scope and provided something akin to a race track for The Flash to run in reverse to create the devastating feedback loop. Whether it’s because we’ve seen Earth-1 run around tornadoes and Zoom’s Magnatar or because of production cost, I feel that it could’ve been a different set design. It doesn’t lessen the amount of tears that ran, but it runs counter to the image that was conveyed in Earth-1 Barry’s visions Jay provided him with in 6×02. Also, couldn’t we have seen The Spectre in full green-cloaked glory? Green glowing eyes doesn’t count. We have dozens of fantastic costume designs and even a CGI effect for Martian Manhunter. Couldn’t they have spared some extra time for God’s Spirit of Vengeance? Also, after debuting him last year, why couldn’t Psycho Pirate be a part of this? The Anti-Monitor recruiting his own motley crew of baddies would’ve paralleled his brother’s. Plus having him be Earth-90 Barry’s captor would’ve made sense. Excluding him from the story in this fashion makes him a pointless cameo last year.
In spite of the aesthetic difficiencies and lack of villain roster, I give this a solid 5 out of 5. Much of the rating has to do with both the death of Earth-90 Flash and the incredible cliffhanger fans are left with until January 14th. Stellar performances from all involved and proper gut check from the world’s greatest villain cemented this installment for the books. Happy Holidays everyone, and stay tuned because the best is yet to come!