In Elseworlds, heroes are taken from their usual settings and put into strange times and places—some that have existed, and others that can’t, couldn’t, or shouldn’t exist. The result is stories that make characters who are as familiar as yesterday seem as fresh as tomorrow.
After weeks of teases and increasing anticipation, this year’s Arrowverse crossover is finally here. “Elseworlds” kicked off with last night’s episode of The Flash, and while the opening installment of the three-part storyline was largely a table-setting episode for the overall crossover storyline, it provided some great character interactions and a knock-out action sequence.
The basic premise of the crossover is established pretty quickly: reality has been rewritten, and Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) and Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) have switched places, though not exactly body-swapped as much as each one of them is completely the other person now, albeit with all of their memories from prior to the switch intact. The highlight of the episode by far is watching Barry and Oliver adjust to being each other. Oliver spends a fair amount of time with Barry’s supporting cast, initially trying to do his best impression of Barry while he tries to figure out what’s going on. Barry, on the other hand, has no chill about being the Green Arrow, clearly loving every minute of it, which pisses Oliver off to no end. These are characters with wildly different outlooks on life, and having to adjust to that and to get into each others’ headspace once they realize they’re kind of stuck like this for a little bit is what ultimately made up the core emotional conflict in the episode. It also illustrates one of the fundamental issues with these crossovers, which is that, tonally, The Flash and Arrow are extremely different shows, and occasionally that tonal inconsistency can make crossovers between the shows feel disjointed. I’m hoping that the swapping of Barry and Oliver will help ameliorate that tonal whiplash when going from this episode of The Flash into Arrow’s part 2.
As for how reality was rewritten in the first place, that’s presumably thanks to John Deegan (Jeremy Davies), a reimagined version of Doctor Destiny who is presented with a big book (most likely The Book of Destiny) and the powers of a god by none other than The Monitor (LaMonica Garrett). This is after we get a replay of the post-credits tag from last week’s episodes of The Flash, Supergirl, and Arrow, in which The Monitor surveys a decimated Earth-90 littered with superhero bodies, and is confronted by a battered Flash (John Wesley Shipp, aw yeah JWS), who races off before he, too, can meet his end. It’s entirely unclear at this point what The Monitor’s goals are, but he definitely seems to be the most powerful character any of our heroes will have faced yet. For Deegan’s part, while we only spend a very short amount of time with him in the episode, his motivations are a bit clearer. Less than thirty seconds into meeting him, Deegan, while making a presentation to a group of fellow psychiatrists, drops the nugget of using “eugenic insights” to remove the imperfections from humanity. I’m still not sure how making Barry and Ollie swap places accomplishes that goal, or why The Monitor finds those particular ideas of Deegan’s intriguing and wishes to subscribe to his newsletter, but it sure makes for some fun television.
After Barry and Ollie get over the initial shock of having switched places and meet up with each other, they head back to STAR Labs to tell Team Flash what’s happened. Despite all of the other insane things that these people deal with on a daily basis, they don’t believe Barry and Oliver’s story, and decide the best thing to do is to lock them up in the Pipeline. Of course the duo escapes, each using the other’s abilities to do so, and having realized it may just be this Earth that’s affected they head over to Earth-38 to ask Supergirl (Melissa Benoist) for help—but not before Cisco (Carlos Valdes) involuntarily vibes The Monitor, and Barry (who is Ollie, try to keep up) convinces Iris (Candice Patton) that they’re telling the truth so she’ll allow them to escape.
On Earth-38, we get our first look at the Smallville of this Earth, accompanied by the theme from the Smallville TV series, “Save Me” by Remy Zero, a move which filled me with sheer glee. Kara is on the farm for a visit, as Clark (Tyler Hoechlin) and Lois (Elizabeth Tulloch) have just returned from Argo City. It’s always a pleasure when Hoechlin shows up—he embodies the comic book versions of both Clark and Superman in a way few other actors have been able to—and Tulloch as Lois Lane is a welcome addition to the universe. Lois unfortunately isn’t in much of the episode, but what we see of her relationship with Clark is spot-on, intimate and playful, with a hint of professional rivalry (and some added feminist outrage at not being paid the same as her male counterpart). Tulloch and Hoechlin have an easy chemistry together, and the two of them along with Benoist feel like a real family. The arrival of Barry and Oliver interrupts the family bonding, and thankfully Kara recognizes them as who they really are, meaning the reality distortion is localized to Earth-1. Kara and Clark agree to help them figure out what’s going on, and Lois’s reporters instincts kick in immediately upon meeting the two strange visitors from another Earth. After Barry and Oliver do some training with each others’ powers in the fields of the Kent Farm, Cisco arrives and tells our heroes they need to come back to Earth-1 right away: there’s a killer robot on the loose, and it’s able to duplicate metahuman powers.
That’s right, people, Amazo is in this episode.
The rest of the episode is dedicated to figuring out how to take down Amazo, particularly after the android duplicates the abilities of all of our heroes (except for Vibe, which is probably good that there’s not a super-powered evil android out there with the ability to go anywhere in the Multiverse). It’s here that Barry and Oliver need to step up into each others’ roles. Barry needs to embrace his dark side in order to fully embody being the Green Arrow, while Oliver needs to lighten up if he truly wants to be an effective Flash. It’s an interesting way to highlight how Barry and Oliver are uniquely suited to their respective identities and power sets, and I’m sure by the time all is said and done with this crossover they’ll both have a new respect for each other. It also provides some decent emotional heft to the extended fight between The Flash, Green Arrow, Supergirl, Superman, and Amazo. Seeing those four heroes fighting alongside each other, particularly with Superman in the mix, made me wish there was a Justice League TV series where they just did that every week. The defeat of Amazo is clever and satisfying, and while the android is destroyed in the end, the seeds are planted already for its inevitable return.
In the post-battle wrap-up, Superman decides to head back to Earth-38, and everyone else gets to the task at hand of figuring out how to fix what’s happened to Barry and Oliver. Cisco takes the two of them along as he vibes The Monitor again and this time they see Deegan with The Monitor, who turns and addresses the vibing trio directly (which is not something anyone’s ever been able to do before) and tells them nothing they can do will be able to stop what’s about to happen. Cisco breaks off the vibe and grabs a tissue to stop the nosebleed he’s developed, and Oliver (who is Barry) draws what he saw at superspeed. They don’t recognize either The Monitor or Deegan, but they do recognize the Wayne logo on the building in the background and decide it’s time to head to Gotham City. The episode closes with a shot of a black-clad figure standing atop a building, long red hair and cape flowing in the wind. Batwoman is here.
Overall this was an immensely satisfying start to the “Elseworlds” crossover. Yes, as far as the overarching story of the crossover goes it was primarily set-up, but it also presented a complete story in the threat of Amazo, and gave both Barry and Oliver interesting emotional arcs as they adjusted to and accepted being in each other’s shoes. The little character moments are what made this episode stand out for me—Barry’s sheer glee at suddenly being a good fighter, Diggle (David Ramsey) continuing his post-superspeed vomit streak, Oliver puffing his chest out when he meets Clark for the first time, the glint in Lois’s eye as she realizes she’s got a hell of a story on her hands. I sincerely hope that Lois’s few scenes in this episode aren’t all we get of her during this crossover. Thankfully we don’t have long to wait for the next installment, and hopefully tonight’s Part 2 will give The Monitor and Deegan a bit more development as characters, while still being an entertaining introduction to Gotham and to Ruby Rose’s Batwoman.