“Holy crimson skies of death!” After a full year of anticipation, the Arrowverse’s attempt to do for small-screen superheroes what Avengers: Endgame did for big-screen ones is finally here. And its first 10 minutes are some of the most exhilarating superhero TV I’ve ever seen. The opening moments of the opening installment of Crisis On Infinite Earths not only deliver nerdy cameos galore (Burt Ward! Robert Wuhl! The Titans! Russell Tovey! Wil Wheaton! Griffin Newman!), they jump from the sweet family comedy of Superman changing a diaper to the absolutely devastating imagery of Clark and Lois sending their baby son to Earth in a pod while they await certain death. In other words, Crisis On Infinite Earths is not messing around.
While previous Arrowverse crossover events have eased us into their storytelling with weddings or body swap comedy, this one drops us into the deep end and just keeps diving deeper. A destructive antimatter wave is sweeping through the multiverse and the Monitor has chosen Earth-38 as the place where the heroes will make their (first) final stand. So his sidekick Harbinger (formerly Lyla Michaels) zaps Clark Kent, Lois Lane, Oliver Queen, Mia Smoak, Barry Allen, Kate Kane, Sara Lance, and Ray Palmer to Kara’s world. The bulk of the episode is a solid, if somewhat simplistic, superhero last stand, as the team tries to defend a Quantum Tower (okay) from some Shadow Demons (sure) in order to buy enough time for the entire world’s population (!!!) to be evacuated. By the end of the hour, Earth-38 has been destroyed and half its population wiped out. Plus Oliver Queen a.k.a. the Green Arrow a.k.a. the godfather of the Arrowverse is dead.
As the first episode of a five-part event, it’s hard to know just how seriously to invest in the many, many changes that “Crisis On Infinite Earths: Part One” delivers. The Arrowverse has frequently demonstrated that there’s no event too big to undo, but I have to imagine that at least some of these changes will stick. Condensing the multiverse into a single Earth was a major part of the 1980s comic on which this crossover is based, and Oliver’s death has basically been baked into this story since last year’s crossover event. But it’s definitely a surprise to see both things happen so early. As the Monitor and some version of Harrison Wells (I’m way too behind on The Flash to know which) note at the end of the episode, things are turning out very differently than expected.
While this almost certainly isn’t the end of Stephen Amell’s role in this crossover (especially considering there are still all those other Earths out there—including Earth-16, where Old Man Oliver is doing his Green Arrow thing in 2046), it could very well be the end for our main version of Oliver Queen. “Crisis On Infinite Earths: Part One” (which is technically a Supergirl episode) mostly relegates characters from the other shows to smaller supporting roles, but Oliver gets meaty, meaningful scenes with Barry, Sara, and, most of all, his daughter-from-the-future Mia, who officially takes up the Green Arrow mantle. This episode gives Oliver a chance to make peace with nearly every part of his past before ultimately sacrificing his life to save an extra 1 billion people from extinction. If this is his end, it’s a fittingly heroic one.
Of course, the downside of these big crossover events is that they can be just a little bit alienating for those who don’t keep up with every corner of the Arrowverse. Personally, I’m seasons behind on Arrow so I will have to leave it to resident expert Allison Shoemaker to parse all the details of Oliver’s role in this crossover and how well it fulfills his arc. For me, it worked better intellectually than emotionally, especially because I still have those lingering questions about the finality of everything that happened tonight.
From my vantage point, the most exciting thing about “Crisis On Infinite Earths: Part One” is that it finally let the Supergirl universe play a major role in a crossover event. Supergirl has pretty much always gotten the fuzzy end of the lollipop in that regard. Kara was a supporting player in the 2016 crossover, Invasion!, while Supergirl’s episodes didn’t have a ton of unique flavor in either Crisis On Earth-X or Elseworlds. Crisis On Infinite Earths is the first to deliver an episode that feels like a meaningful part of the crossover and a meaningful part of Supergirl as well. And it doesn’t shy away from barreling right ahead with detailed bits of continuity, like Lena’s rivalry with the Super Friends or the alien refugee arc from last year.
Some of it passes too quickly. I could’ve watched a whole episode just about humanity having to turn to alien refugees for help fleeing the planet, which is an incredibly poignant addition to last season’s arc. Instead, the logistics of evacuating Earth-38 are mostly handwaved away. As are the deaths of several billion people, which the Monitor just kind of mentions in passing.
On the other hand, the decision not to resolve Lena’s arc in last week’s midseason finale pays off in dividends here. Lena gets even more fuel for her grudge as she take offense at the fact that Alex thought she was going to have to beg for Lena’s help creating a transmit portal to transport Earth-38 escape ships to the Earth-1 universe. (Earth-1 is the last place the antimatter wave is set to hit.) I really love the air of childish petulance Katie McGrath gives Lena in this episode. After she and Alex prove to be a great duo in a crisis, Lena notes that just because they work well together does not mean they’re friends, which sounds like something a high schooler might say. And that’s a fascinating insight into Lena’s mindset. She may be brilliant scientist and a savvy businesswoman, but her challenging childhood has left her more emotionally stunted than she’s willing to admit.
The other standout Supergirl-specific scene is the one between Kara and Clark on the DEO Balcony of Deep Thoughts. They’re both in dark places. Her mother has just been killed (again) in the destruction of Argo City, while his baby son is stranded in another universe where Lois has gone to rescue him. Clark blames himself for laying down his protector mantle and trying to lead a normal life. So Kara, who’s been in that mindset before, gives him a pep talk filled with some patented Kryptonian optimism
If this whole crossover feels like Endgame, that particularly scene feels more like Thor: Ragnarok and its “Asgard is not a place, it’s a people” ethos. Kara celebrates the way she and Clark were able to carry on Krypton’s legacy on Earth, and promises that they’ll help the people of Earth-38 do the same elsewhere. I’m sure there will be plenty more Supergirl-centric stuff in the crossover episodes that follow. We’ve got a bunch of returning Supermen to deal with, not to mention Lex Luthor himself. For now, however, it’s just nice to see Kara’s world receive such a meaningful role for once, even if it had to be destroyed to get it.
- A perfect distillation of Supergirl as a show is Kara gently asking the dragon she just turned into a lizard, “What’s got you so spooked, buddy?” (That pet dragon previously appeared in the fourth season episode “Call To Action.”)
- The Crisis On Infinite Earths crossover continues with Batwoman on Monday and The Flash on Tuesday, before wrapping up with Arrow and Legends Of Tomorrow episodes on January 14th. I’m curious to see if the month-long mid-crossover break will effectively ramp up the tension or just deflate it.
- If you’re behind on the Arrowverse, Polygon has a solid primer on the lead-up to the crossover.
- Nia returns just as unceremoniously as she disappeared! Plus Kelly gets a fun hero moment as she whips out James’ Guardian shield to protect a civilian.
- After befriending her in last year’s crossover, Kara gets to officially bring Kate Kane into the Multiverse Super Friends. (Cue Oliver when Kate takes off her Batwoman mask, “Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.”)
- About those cameos: Robert Wuhl (who played reporter Alexander Knox in 1989’s Batman) appears on Earth-89. Burt Ward (who played Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show) appears on Earth-66. The characters from the DC streaming service show Titans appear on Earth-9. And Russell Tovey’s The Ray appears on Earth-X. Unfortunately, all of those Earths are seemingly destroyed by the antimatter wave.
- Baby Jonathan is, of course, named after Clark’s father Jonathan Kent. What do you want to bet his middle name is Jor-El?
- That’s it for Supergirl in 2019! See you back here in 2020—assuming the Arrowverse isn’t wiped out by the Anti-Moniter, of course.