The CW has a mixed track record with its Arrowverse crossovers. In the past, the most successful episodes have been the smaller ones, those with lower stakes and more time for character beats and comedic asides. Crisis On Infinite Earths looked to be bucking this trend with its first three installments, finding time among the apocalyptic build-up for moments of levity and connection, not to mention surprise cameos and fan shout-outs galore. However, with its massive cliffhanger—destroying all matter in the universe save six paragons and Lex Luthor—“Crisis On Infinite Earths: Part Three” changed the tone of the crossover, setting up a much more dramatic and urgent final two installments. Unfortunately, Arrow’s contribution to the crossover not only fails to live up to the dramatic stakes of that cliffhanger, it sours the goodwill generated by the first three episodes, retreading old ground and sending the crossover limping into its finale.
The episode begins not where we left off, but by showing the events that set the Crisis into motion, ten thousand years earlier on the planet Maltus. Mar Novu, a lowly time traveler, opens a portal back to the dawn of time and by travelling through it, he breaches the wall between the universe and anti-universe. This somehow creates the Anti-Monitor. That’s it. No reasons are given for the Anti-Monitor’s creation, no motivation for his urge to destroy our heroes’ universe, no clue as to how the Monitor (or Anti-Monitor) gained his god-like powers. Initially, this seems like an intriguing tease for what’s yet to come, but the episode fails to deliver on that promise. Instead, we cut back to the Vanishing Point, as the paragons and Lex struggle to grapple with their new existence.
It’s been several months. Barry is missing, Sara and Kara are hopeless, Kate and J’onn fill their time training and meditating, and Ryan and Lex are doing their best to tinker with the tech they can find among the debris. Their first glimpse of hope in a long time slips through their fingers when Ryan and Lex’s attempt at a teleport fizzles out, just in time for Barry to reappear. It turns out he’s been trying unsuccessfully to tap into the speed force—he thinks only seconds have passed. Whatever are our SuperFriends (and Lex) to do?
Over in Purgatory, SpectreOllie trains with Jim Corrigan, reliving Oliver’s life via a disappointingly quickly-cut montage of past Arrow fight scenes. SpectreOllie is Oliver, in a sense, but also very much not, with the show altering his voice to underscore the change and keep viewers a bit distanced from this new incarnation. After a quick, appropriately dour monologue, catching viewers back up on the whole Anti-Monitor equals apocalypse thing, it’s time to go get everyone from the Vanishing Point and save the day.
Except then the episode would be over too quickly, so instead the group needs to split up, with SpectreOllie juicing up Barry and Barry carrying everyone through the Speed Force. He sends Kara, Lex, and Ryan off to Maltus to talk Mar Novu out of ever traveling in time and the rest of the gang heads to the dawn of time to fight the Anti-Monitor. This leads to Kara v. Lex hijinks and while Ryan’s excitement at experiencing a new world is charming—or it would be, if he hadn’t just been writing a depressing letter to his dead wife—the tonal whiplash is jarring. A newly superpowered Lex escapes, as he always does, and he heads to find Mar and turn this latest twist to his advantage. Meanwhile Kara, who Ryan aptly dubs the Paragon of Pep Talks, flies Ryan and herself to Mar’s lab just in the nick of time, stopping Lex from corrupting the timeline further while Ryan convinces Mar to abandon his life’s work in order to save the multiverse.
Elsewhere in the Speed Force, the Anti-Monitor has attacked the rest of the paragons, causing them to be flung throughout the Speed Force. SpectreOllie is able to keep them from slipping out of the Speed Force by drawing them into constructs of some of Ollie’s most meaningful crossover- and paragon-related memories, but Barry has to go find them. This is a wonderful opportunity to relive and re-imagine high points from each of the Arrowverse shows’ histories. How will Barry, Sara, J’onn, and Kate react to Ollie’s happiest and worst memories? Unfortunately, it’s yet another missed opportunity, with the show clearly constrained by the shooting schedule gymnastics required to pull off these crossovers. Most of the moments feel arbitrary. Kate for some reason is held in Oliver’s memory of meeting Ray, while J’onn is held in Oliver’s prickly first meeting with Kara. Barry stops by the Elseworlds crossover to get some answers from Oliver—is now really the time, Barry?—but this helps him put the pieces together, and he goes to pick up Sara from apparently Laurel and Diggle’s memories of her death (I know I’m not supposed to be thinking too hard here, but shouldn’t Oliver be in each of his memories?), before scooping up the rest of the gang. Then it’s back to Maltus to get Kara, Ryan, and Lex, and the whole crew is deposited at the dawn of time.
Here is where the episode really starts to flounder. With each successive digression, the momentum lags, and while they have their moments of levity—shout-out to the team for keeping that delightful Ezra Miller cameo under wraps—that’s not enough to make up for just how much time is sunk into them. The reveal that the entire tangent on Maltus was also filler is incredibly frustrating. At least half of this episode could be cut without losing anything of interest. Perhaps then there would have been more time to show the paragons in action, doing more to embody their titles. Instead the Anti-Monitor raises his minions to fight the paragons while he takes on SpectreOllie, and a giant fight scene ensues. What we get is non-descript at best, and irritating at worst. How is Ryan fighting the Anti-Monitor’s ghost minions? What are they made of, and what can harm them? When this viewer is watching your big, climactic crossover boss battle and wondering about armor classes, subdual damage, and hit points, instead of oohing and ahhing over team-up moments and sweet fight choreography, you have a problem.
There’s absolutely no specificity to the paragons. In the end, they literally stand in a line and think hard about their paragon title and that is enough, along with whatever SpectreOllie is doing while fighting the Anti-Monitor, to restart reality. One would think Lex Luthor defining truth at the rebirth of reality instead of Earth-96 Clark Kent would have an impact—perhaps that’s a shoe that’s yet to drop in part five. Regardless, the mental energy from the paragons, along with whatever special sauce Oliver got from becoming Spectre, is enough to defeat the Anti-Monitor and restart the universe. It’s an underwhelming conclusion, but with better setup and more a energetic and purposeful act one and two, it could have worked. Instead the entire episode feels like a waste, flitting from one retread to the next, even culminating in diminishing returns as the episode ends with Oliver’s second death scene of the crossover, a pale shadow of the raw and emotional end of part one.
Crisis On Infinite Earths still has one more episode to go, but after “Part Four,” it’s tempting to turn off the set and walk away. After a rejuvenated, exciting final season of Arrow, this is one hell of a disappointing way to send out Oliver Queen, if he even is gone for good, and it’s the clear low point of the crossover.
- I can’t underscore just how excited I was to sub in for “Part Four”. I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by the strong final season of Arrow and I was ready to love this episode, after really enjoying the first three parts of Crisis. That being said, if anything can salvage my dashed hopes for this crossover, it’s the Legends.
- Why have several months passed when we pick up at the Vanishing Point? What have they been eating? Why has Ryan grown a beard, but no one’s hair has grown? Why is no one affected in any meaningful way by having been isolated for so long? Why open up this can of worms if you don’t care about any of these questions?
- “You have failed this universe.” Wow.
- Was there any salmon ladder?: No, and it could not have hurt. Edit Barry into a scene (“memory”) from early Arrow have him react to Ollie training. The comedy writes itself.
- TAMVP: Team Arrow doesn’t meaningfully appear, so I guess, Grant Gustin? Caity Lotz sells the drama of the ending beautifully, but she’s sidelined for most of the episode. Stephen Amell has a few nice moments, particularly with Gustin, but this is more Gustin’s episode than anyone else’s.
- This week’s Arrow as a Crazy Ex-Girlfriend song: I expected this to be difficult, but nope. The clear answer is, “Trapped In A Car With Someone You Don’t Want To Be Trapped In A Car With.”