Even by the usual standards of a CW superhero crossover, “Invasion!” is an absurdly overstuffed kickoff to a three-night event. (I refuse to entertain the promo ad claims that it’s actually a four-night event, but more on that later.) Not only does the episode bring the casts of four different shows together, with all the tangled relationships that entails, it also continues to advance the story arcs of this season of The Flash and finds a way to weave those ongoing conflicts into the multi-series story of an alien invasion. It doesn’t lack ambition, and there’s certainly enjoyment to be found here, but the pace is beyond Wally West’s wildest dreams, and that’s not always a good thing.
Those of us who don’t necessarily follow the other three shows (Supergirl, Arrow, DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow) religiously are at a disadvantage, although it’s a familiar one for anyone who grew up on these sorts of comic book crossovers. I know who all the characters are, but for the most part, I’m not up to speed with what they’ve been up to on their respective shows this season. So while I’ve got a grasp of the basic relationships, I’m sure there are subtleties and references that flew straight over my head. Complicating matters further is the fact that some of these characters previously recurred on The Flash and have stronger pre-existing relationships with the regulars than others. It’s hard for one episode to service all of that history while it’s also working at being a thrilling alien invasion epic, so there are inevitably some missed opportunities here.
We’re on relatively solid ground as the episode opens, with the season’s established conflicts continuing to develop. Cisco is pissed at Barry over the death of his brother, Caitlin is avoiding the use of her powers, and Wally is eager to test his in the field, something his family is strongly discouraging him from doing. HR still envisions opening STAR Labs to the public somehow, with attractions including “Particle Vision,” a recreation of the accelerator explosion from the point of view of the particles. A satellite signal warns of a meteor on a collision course with Central City, but when Barry arrives on the scene, he finds it’s actually a spaceship full of little green men.
The assembly of the super-team to battle this invasion is a bit more rushed than I would have liked. (In particular, I found it curious that Barry and company appeared to be up to speed on what Stein and the rest of the “legends” have been doing.) Once the group is assembled, we get a handy re-introduction to everyone courtesy of newcomer Kara. There’s hardly any time to think about how well the various heroes know each other or which ones get along or any of the now-extensive past history of the CW-verse. By now we’re well beyond the point of Barry taking any care with his secret identity at all, but he’s pretty open about revealing everyone else’s secrets to the group. For instance, Heat Wave is a rogue he’s battled several times, but they barely acknowledge each other here, and Barry is apparently fine with him knowing Oliver is the Green Arrow and so on. Of course, it’s impossible for one episode to address every little bit of history, but a little more time to breathe at the outset would have been welcome.
Fortunately, “Invasion!” does find time to touch on some of the established relationships, the most touching example coming when Caitlin accompanies Stein to his house to find that his timeline has been altered and he now has a daughter. The action is zippy and the classic comic-book trope of the team turning evil under alien mind control and battling Barry and Oliver is colorful, with the Flash using his powers against the metas while Green Arrow does martial arts with the vigilantes (and Wally finally gets his moment to shine). Of course, the alien battle ends on a cliffhanger, meaning the grade for this episode should really be “Incomplete,” if only that were an option.
It’s a minor miracle that The Flash pulls all of this off while still managing to tend to its own business. Barry’s tampering with the timeline proves to be even more disastrous than it already seemed, as Stein reveals with his recording of future Barry warning that his past self is not to be trusted. The show is intent on pushing Barry’s likability to the breaking point: not only is Cisco fed up with him, the repercussions of his actions are now revealed to others who had no idea their lives had been altered, notably Diggle, whose daughter became a son. Yet it’s Oliver, so often the gruff voice of hard truths, who extends Barry a lifeline by telling the gut-wrenching story of how he lost both of his parents. He would have done the same, and all of us who have been harshly judging Barry’s selfishness (present company included) probably would have, too,.
- Am I the only one who was fooled into thinking last night’s Supergirl was supposed to be the first part of this crossover? Instead I watched a whole episode full of events that meant nothing to me (since I’m about a season behind) only to be rewarded with 30 seconds of Barry and Cisco. And not only that, but the same 30 seconds was repeated in tonight’s episode! Not cool, CW.
- While I’m ranting at the network, I could also do without the promos for future installments of the crossover airing during the episode. That’s equivalent to airing “next time on The Flash” during the first commercial break. Don’t do that!
- HR agrees to train Wally in secret, which should make for the oddest couple this show has seen yet.
- Ray tells Barry that Leonard Snart died a hero. But did that happen in this reconfigured timeline? We know Wentworth Miller is under contract, so I’m guessing not.
- Speaking of which, it was a little odd to see members of the time-traveling superhero team lecturing Barry about the dangers of altering the timeline. I haven’t followed Legends Of Tomorrow too closely, but are they really that careful?
- Tune in tomorrow as Alasdair Wilkins continues our crossover coverage with Arrow’s installment of “Invasion!”