Grant Gustin, Melissa Benoist/The CW

“Musicals have the power to make everything better.” That’s what Barry Allen’s mother used to tell him, and while it’s not always the case, it certainly holds true for “Duet,” the long-anticipated musical crossover with Supergirl. After weeks of dour, angst-ridden soap opera, The Flash is fun again thanks to the sort of format-breaking escapade that should happen much more often. This is a comic-book multiverse where anything is possible, so why spend so much time running in circles? And while “Duet” works pretty well as a standalone, it actually ties into the season-long plot by resolving an issue that could have lingered unpleasantly for many more weeks, which is reason enough to be grateful.

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The episode has more to offer than that, however. The set-up is almost absurdly simple, given the usual sort of alternate dimension/timeline shenanigans these CW super-shows traffic in. An alien prisoner has escaped from Earth-38, knocking Kara into a coma in the process. Mon-El and J’onn J’onnz bring her to STAR Labs on Earth-1, where they’ve traced the escaped alien. Barry and Wally (not retired for long, thanks to HR’s inspiring exhortation to “ride, Wallace, ride”) battle the villain Barry will dub Music Meister, but he’s too powerful. He knocks Barry into a coma as well, using his hypno-vision to transport the speedster into a shared hallucination with Kara. Since they both love old-fashioned Hollywood musicals, that’s the form their new world takes.

Kara’s affection for The Wizard Of Oz is an easy excuse for various stars of the CW-verse (mostly those who happen to be musically talented) to turn up in alternate guises. Kara and Barry are singers in a club run by mobster Cutter Moran, who bears a striking resemblance to Malcolm Merlin since he’s also played by John Barrowman. Alt-versions of Cisco and Winn work in the club, while Cutter’s gangster rival, Diggsy Foss, provides Jesse L. Martin another opportunity to croon. Play out the musical to its conclusion, Music Meister informs them, and return to reality. Die in the musical, you die in real life.

Familiarity with musical tropes pays off as Barry and Kara quickly uncover the tale of starcrossed lovers at the heart of the story. That those lovers are “played” by Iris and Mon-El complicates matters a little, but it turns out “convincing people in musicals is really easy.” The superfriends conclude that getting the lovers to tell their respective mobster parents about their forbidden love is the best way to bring about the closing number. Alas, tragedy awaits as the gangster families go to war. Back in the real world, Music Meister tells Iris and Mon-El they can save the trapped duo if their love is strong enough, and one vibe later, they arrive in time to administer life-saving kisses.

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Of course it’s all corny as hell, but what kind of musical tribute would this be if it weren’t? The plot is just a clothesline on which to hang the song-and-dance numbers, most of which are as enchanting as hoped. Kara solos on “Moon River,” spotting Barry just as she reaches the line about “my huckleberry friend.” The crew at Moran’s club delivers a showstopper with “Put A Little Love In Your Heart,” and the gangster rival dads (including Doc Stein himself, Victor Garber) trade verses on “More I Cannot Wish You” from Guys and Dolls. The highlight is an original co-written by Crazy Ex-Girlfriend star Rachel Bloom, the charming “Super Friend,” which finds Barry and Kara trading lines about her more famous cousin and his ability to go back in time and change things. (“I’m actually not supposed to do that anymore.”) These numbers aren’t especially elaborate in their staging or choreography, but they’re delivered with flair and exuberance, captured cleanly by episode director Dermott Downs. The one clunker is the sappy power ballad “Runnin’ Home To You” from the La La Land team of Benji Pasek and Justin Paul, but in context it almost works as Barry and Iris get re-engaged, presumably for the right reasons this time.

For once Barry isn’t a complete schmuck, as Grant Gustin is freed to reconnect with the character’s endearing side. Benoist does a lot to bring that out of him as well; part of it may be that they’re former Glee co-stars (as is guest villain Darren Criss), but it’s also hard to deny the chemistry between the Flash and Supergirl in all their appearances together so far. It’s probably logistically untenable for them to ever be more than “super friends,” but if this show ever needed the positive energy they generate together, now was certainly the time.

Stray observations

  • So Supergirl is in town and no one bothers to ask, “Hey, could you beat the crap out of this Savitar guy for us and put a quick, merciful end to this storyline?” I know, I know, it never works that way in the comics, so why should TV be any different?
  • All of the regular cast members who got to try on ‘40s gangster-era roles look like they’re having a blast, but Candice Patton is especially delightful as the gum-smacking moll Millie. How did Tom Cavanagh not get yet another alter ego to play?
  • Millie has two dads! The matter-of-fact way this was presented might not have been quite in line with an old-fashioned musical, but since the entire world was processed through the shared subconscious of Barry and Kara, it didn’t come off as anachronistic.
  • I don’t know much about what’s happening on Supergirl these days, but I did enjoy J’onn revealing himself as Martian Manhunter to the STAR Labs crew.

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