‘The Flash’ 5×09 Review: Elseworlds Part 1

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Well, it’s that time of year again. Time for the annual crossover between the Arrowverse shows – or three of them this year, at least. Every year, it’s a chance to see all (or, rather, some) of our favorite characters interact on-screen. The annual crossovers, while ambitious, are not without their flaws. As the first in a three-hour event, not much was resolved in The Flash this week. Still, it was a solid start to the crossover.

The Setup

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An episode with the premise that Barry and Oliver identity-swap is the kind of thing that really can only work in a comic book medium. It is also the kind of premise that shows why comic book shows are at their most fun when they embrace the campy absurdity of their source material. This premise, applied to Barry Allen and Oliver Queen, definitely had the promise of humor value. In that sense, the episode really delivered. From Oliver’s confusion at waking up in the apartment with Iris, to the first sight of him in the Flash suit, there were moments of comedy gold. Barry and Oliver in the pipeline was also a shining moment.

There were also some humorous – and touching – Westallen moments, which is fitting since Westallen is the heart of the show. Jealous Barry was a highlight of the first season, and he definitely made his reappearance here. He initially was having fun with the body swap. However, that all changed the moment he realized Oliver had woken up in bed with his wife. (Technically, she wasn’t there, but Barry didn’t seem inclined to focus on details.) Little moments, like Oliver’s refusal to tell Iris she’s his lightning rod, also brought a smile.

In premise and in these small moments, this first installment of the crossover really worked. There was also some nostalgia value in revisiting Smallville’s Kent Farm in an unsubtle shout out.

If there is one critique I would have with the premise, it’s that the “lesson” revisited a well we’ve been to before. It could have done something new. By the end of the hour, Barry and Oliver realized they had to “become” each other. Barry would have to embrace Oliver’s darkness and rage. Oliver would have to embrace the joy and love that helps Barry run faster.

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Perhaps we haven’t seen as much of a joyful Green Arrow – more glimpses than long stretches of moments, it seems. But we certainly have seen Barry try to channel Oliver before, and it never seems to go well. Nor should it, really. There’s a reason Oliver and Barry are different characters. There are different motivations driving them. They have vastly different personalities and life experiences. Their mutual desire for justice manifests in different ways. I don’t think one personality type is better than the other, but I do think it would be incredibly boring if every hero was cut from the same cloth.

So why not embrace who they are and show why Green Arrow isn’t joyful and Flash isn’t dark? Why not show what the Flash would have been if lightning had struck Oliver Queen? Or what Green Arrow would have been without that darkness that drives him?

Of course, if the crossover wanted to really push the envelope, they could have a true body swap – similar to what Smallville partly did with “Hex.” Grant Gustin could have played “Oliver Queen” and Stephen Amell could have played “Barry Allen” for a few episodes. Each actor actually embracing the other’s characteristics, speech patterns, and every other aspect of the character the other portrays.

Naturally, we would still prefer Amell as Oliver and Gustin as Barry. But if you’re going to embrace the comic book nature of the plot, why not go all the way?

The Villain

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Because this was the first of three parts, not much happened with regards to the actual Big Bad of the crossover. We will undoubtedly get more information on Monitor and what he’s after in subsequent installments.

That said, this episode was not without its Villain of the Week. Barry, Oliver, and company teamed up to take down AMAZO, who was said to be able to copy metahuman DNA but seemed to be able to copy Superman and Supergirl’s abilities, as well. (Psst! They aren’t metahumans, but whatever. We’ll roll with it.) In fact, AMAZO’s abilities were impressive enough that it almost seemed a waste to use them for just a few minutes in this episode. Surely they could have found a more expendable villain? It’s just a bit of a shame to have someone with that kind of power be a one and done, and in so little time.

The Problem?

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Every crossover has come with controversy, and this one was no exception. This crossover did not involve the crew from Legends of Tomorrow, thus narrowing the cast from last year. However, they weren’t the only ones left out of the crossover this year. What’s more disturbing is the implication as to why.

As with every year but this last year, when her marriage to Barry was the excuse to bring the characters together, Iris is being left out of every crossover portion outside of The Flash this season. For the first time, Felicity was left out of it, too. The former is problematic because it’s yet another example of a disturbing pattern. The latter is problematic because of the suspected reason for her omission.

Given the plot, it makes no sense that Felicity would not have been involved in The Flash’s portion of the crossover. Upon discovering the body swap, Oliver (and eventually Barry) was desperate to get everyone to realize the truth. Team Flash was reluctant at first, so Barry tried to convince him to talk to Iris, to get through to her. (Real Barry would eventually succeed, of course.) But in all this time, it seemingly never once occurred to Oliver to track down his own wife, to appeal to her emotions, to convince her of the truth, and to put faith in her to appeal to everyone else on his behalf.

It isn’t likely Oliver wouldn’t think of Felicity in this situation – that he did not do so is undoubtedly entirely because she wasn’t present. But it’s hard to believe an actress’s absence is because it “has to make sense” for them to crossover when you have to work harder to justify her absence than you would her presence. And truth be told, the real issue is why she wasn’t there.

More than one fan of Arrow has remarked that the treatment of Emily Bett Rickards changed dramatically after she spoke out regarding #MeToo. More specifically, after show runner Guggenheim tweeted about “reverse sexism.” She tweeted (not directly tagging or responding to him) that those who complain about “reverse sexism” are weak and complicit.

Since Guggenheim was in charge of this crossover, is her absence an act of retribution for indirectly speaking out against him? It’s hard not to wonder. And if it is, it’s all the more disturbing – yet another example of someone in power taking revenge against those who would speak out and speak up.

Of course, Candice Patton being left out of the crossovers predates this Twitter exchange. One can only speculate on what if anything happened behind the scenes to warrant retribution against her, if that is the case. But even if there aren’t such disturbing underlying reasons, it is still problematic that on series like characters like Iris would be left out of these crossovers every year.

For one thing, there’s the simple fact that she’s the female lead. It is disrespectful to leave her out year after year. It is particularly galling that reporters Lois Lane and Clark Kent actually appeared on The Flash this year. They even spoke about journalism – a conversation long overdue, with characters near and dear to my heart. Yet, after five years of Patton begging to explore the journalistic side of her character, Iris was not included in that conversation. A conversation that occurred on her own show.

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Beyond that, I’ve written before that now more than ever, it is important to recognize that regular people can be heroes, too. Upon reflection, I’ve come to realize that I was wrong.

It has always been important to recognize that regular people can be heroes. In every era of human history. And continuing to ignore the fundamental importance of that message by underutilizing and undermining their regular characters – like Iris – is one of the great failings of these crossovers. And of these series.

Flash, Green Arrow, Supergirl, and Superman represent the heroes that we wish we could be. Characters like Iris West, Lois Lane, and Alex Danvers represent the heroes we can actually be. It is past time these superhero shows embrace that.

Other Points of Interest

Sherloque giving Clark a check to give to one of his ex-wives was undoubtedly setting up the future episode where we meet said ex-wives. I have to hope that this episode goes better than the Council of Wells, because that was painful.

Overall Impression

A solid beginning to a three-part crossover, though it highlighted some of the issues that have been pervasive in the Arrowverse since the beginning.

(New) Questions of the Hour

  • Lois went with Superman to Argo? When did that happen? And why would we not get to see something that sounds that awesome?
  • Where was Nora this week? I assume she was off with Joe, but it seems strange she couldn’t even get a mention. Only imagine Oliver’s reaction if he’d run into Barry’s daughter from the future and had to pretend to be the father she was only just now getting to know.

The Flash returns Tuesday, January 15 at 8/7c on The CW.

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