So Many Heroes, So Little Time
Arrowverse Crossovers: 2015/2016 Season
When covering ArrowverseWhen it was announced that the CW was creating a show based on the Green Arrow, people laughed. The CW? Really? Was it going to be teen-oriented like everything else on the network and be called "Arrow High"? And yet that one show, Arrow has spawned three spin-offs, various related shows and given DC a successful shared universe, the Arrowverse on TV and streaming. crossovers for the site, the trick is choosing which episodes qualify as a true crossover and what acts as more of a shared universe. Essentially for us it amounts to how big a deal the shows themselves make of the shared characters. For instance, if Barry Allen / Flash bounces over to Arrow for an episode, it's considered a big deal, something to promote and (normally) put on the eighth episode of a season (as that's usually when the big, universe-spanning crossovers happen). However, if one of his sidekicks, like Cisco, goes over on his own, it's just a fun little cameo, a shared universe nod.
Before the 2014/2015 season these kinds of considerations weren't necessary because there was only one show: Arrow. After The Flash launched, though, shared universe events became more normal. In our review of that season's crossovers we only looked at the big event, Flash vs. Arrow, but it's worth nothing that Arrow's Felicity showed up earlier in the season on The Flash to help with a case, and then later Caitlin and Cisco went over to Arrow to help out as well. Neither of these were big events but they were fun nods to the shared continuity.
We mention all this because the next season (and subject of this article), the 2015/2016 season, features a lot of cross-pollination. Some of it is setup for another series spinning off later, Legends of Tomorrow, such as developing Kendra Saunders / Hawkgirl (Ciara Renee) on The Flash and bringing Sara Lance / White Canary and Ray Palmer / Atom back from the dead over on Arrow so they could all appear on the eventual spin-off. This is all important to the long-form story, but they aren't necessarily big events. Instead, we're choosing to focus solely on when title characters from their various shows cross over and the CW felt the need to promote it.
Even with that caveat in place, this season was absolutely loaded with crossovers:
Arrow, Season 4, Episode 5: Haunted
The first big event of the season didn't even involve a "proper" Arrowverse show. The previous TV season had seen the release of Constantine on NBC. While that show was fun it didn't build up the following the Peacock Network was hoping for and it was axed after a single, short season. However, the producers of Arrow thought it would be fun to revive the character of John Constantine (Matt Ryan) for one more episode and the character. And, wouldn't you know it, he's brought in to help just as the show is starting to work magic into its plot lines a lot more.
In the episode, Team Arrow is dealing with two issues. For one, Damien Dahrk has come to town as the new big bad, and he's working with the evil organization Hive. Oh, and it's worth noting that Dahrk is a League of Assassins-trained killer as well as a master sorcerer. Whatever he has planned, it's not good for Team Arrow. The more pressing issue, though, is Sara Lance. Her sister, Laurel (current Black Canary), and Oliver's sister, Thea (Speedy), took Sara's body to Nanda Parbat (home of the League) to use the magical, life-giving well there to revive Sara's long-dead corpse. The body is revived, but Sara isn't really home -- she's an empty husk full of rage. Oh, and she wants to kill Thea (because Thea had been mind-controlled by her father to kill Sara in the previous season, because comic book logic).
Clearly Team Arrow needs help to subdue Sara and figure out what's wrong with her. Since it was magic that brought her back, Oliver goes to the one guy he knows for magical help: Constantine. Five years earlier (as show in flashbacks) Oliver had helped Constantine out of a jam (involving a lot of info that barely matters to the present storyline) and John has owed Oliver ever since. Constantine comes to town and, with just a quick look, notes that Sara's soul is missing from her body. Of course, the only way to get it back is via a magical ritual, so Oliver and Laurel step up and the three enter Sara's essence to find her soul, free it, and reconnect her mind and body as one. Or, at least, that's the plan...
I will fully admit that I didn't watch Constantine when it was on, so I'm one of the many people who dropped the ball and let that show get canceled. In my defense, while I liked the first episode of the show the second episode was a total bore and I quickly lost interest. That was my mistake, of course, as very quickly the show picked up steam and became pretty awesome. So getting Constantine back, even just for a short time, is great. That said, it really doesn't feel like the same Constantine. Sure, the actor is the same, and Ryan does a fantastic job with the role any time he gets to play it (which is why he's also voicing Constantine over in the DCAMU as well). The spark of the character is there, certainly.
The issue is that Constantine and Arrow were two very different shows, different not only in tone but also in writing style, direction, and general ambiance. Putting Constantine in Arrow doesn't feel like a crossover so much as fan-fiction. It's fun, sure, but something is definitely missing. Plus, frankly, the whole resolution of the episode is super rushed. There's so much setup involved in getting Constantine into the show that the climactic rescue is over-and-done before it even really got started. It's just a waste of the character.
I'm glad the Arrowverse team decided to bring Constantine back (and doubly happy they've made him a regular over on Legends of Tomorrow for its fourth season). This episode, though, doesn't really know what to do with a great character; it plods along through the setup and then rushes through good bits. As a continuation of the NBC series, this episode left me wanting.
The Flash, Season 2, Episode 8: Heroes of Today
Now we're getting in to the big crossover event for the season, but I'm going to preface this by noting it's really pretty boring. If you were hoping for a huge event, one that felt like more than the sum of putting Arrow and The Flash together, you're going to be disappointed. Of all the big crossover events the 'verse has done so far, this is easily the weakest, hands down. They're not the worst episode the Arrowverse has ever cranked out, but they also fail to rise above any of the normal, mid-tier episodes that occur through a season.
We starts off on The Flash over in Central City (central to what? the show never says). Cisco has been dating a hottie, Kendra Saunders, and the two have been getting closer over the course of a few episodes. Unfortunately for these two budding romantics a couple of dudes roll into town, and they each might have something to say about the matter. First is Vandal Savage (Casper Crump), an immortal Egyptian priest who, every generation, has to kill a version of Kendra and her soul mate, Carter Hall (Falk Henfschel) to keep himself alive. It's a magical, reincarnation, murder pact and, each time, the two lovers try to find a way to escape their fate. They haven't yet after 4,000 years.
The other man to come to town is Carter himself and he wants Kendra to remember their past lives so she can become Hawkgirl once again. After a battle with Savage (that's stopped by the Flash), Team Flash (with Kendra in tow) head to Star City to enlist the help of Team Arrow. That's when Hawkman (Carter) arrives, fights the other heroes (because he's the only manly man that can protect Kendra), and then eventually agrees to their assistance... in the next episode.
This episode is fairly enjoyable on the whole simply because all the members of Team Flash and Team Arrow have a lot of chemistry together. It's fun watching all these guys hang out, crack jokes, and generally goof on themselves. The reason this episode works at all is because everyone involved is having such a great time.
Where the episode falls apart at all is with Vandal Savage and Carter Hall. While Crump tries to inject life and menace into the role of Vandal (rewritten here from an immortal prehistoric man to an Egyptian priest), but he never finds the deep evil of the character. Instead of seeming like a hulking, ever present threat he comes across like a weasley office nerd, someone hurt that the pretty girl didn't notice him. He's less a super-villain than an MRA loser given immortality. He's not engaging (which is a problem that persisted with this character throughout Legends of Tomorrow). A different actor might have been able to inject real life in Savage, but Crump was not the right man for that task.
Which, speaking of, neither was Henfschel. Given the role of Hawkman, the actor feels like a blank, a void without any charisma. Hawkman is easily the worst part of this episode, a deus ex machina in person form, brought in to look pretty and info dump. While he does both of those things, Henfschel is never able to make Hawkman into a compelling character. The plot of the episode hinges on him and Kendra, but only Hawkgirl's actress, Renee, is able to rise to the moment. Without a strong lead to stitch the story around, "Heroes of Today" falls flat. And yet there's still another episode of this to go...
Arrow, Season 4, Episode 8: Heroes of Yesterday
So here is where we really get the full back-story for Kendra and Carter. Done in flashbacks (that feel over-the-top soap operatic) we learn about how Carter was Prince Khufu, heir to the throne. Secretly, though, he was in love with Chay-Ara, high priestess of Horus (one of the bird-gods). When Savage, who was in loved with Chay-Ara, finds the two in bed together, he loses his crap and, in a fit of jealous rage, kills them both. This happens around the same time as a magical meteor strike, and their deaths somehow feed Savage, granting him immortality.
In the present, the team has abandoned city live to hide out on Oliver's farm. There Kendra practices becoming Hawkgirl while Hawkman stands off to the side and generally acts like a dick. Meanwhile, Savages has stolen the Cane of Horus and plans to use it's power to kill Carter and Kendra -- if Team Arrow doesn't hand them over, he'll use the cane to destroy the nearby city. After trying to negotiate with Savage, Team Arrow hatches a plan where they would take Kendra and Carter to Savage, but then the "prisoners" would break free and fight Savage while Barry (equipped with tech-gauntlets designed by Cisco) would steal the staff and use it to destroy Savage. Unfortunately, the plan goes south, Savage steals back the cane, and attempts to destroy the city.
How do the heroes solve this? Well, with Barry accidentally running so fast away from the blast that he travels through time. He ends up looping the day back upon itself (something he'd done accidentally once before in the first season of the show, and then his daughter Nora does the same feat, over and over, in the fifth season episode "Cause and XS"). This time, armed with the knowledge of what's about to happen, Flash guides the team along a new path one that, hopefully, doesn't lead to the whole city blowing up.
This episode isn't as fun as the previous half, and that might be in part because it's an Arrow episode and not a Flash one. Arrow has traditionally been the darker, broodier, less light-hearted show of the two and it shows in this back-half of Heroes Join Forces. The fun, quippy dynamic of the first half is ditched in favor of a lot of plotting, a lot of keeping secrets, and a whole lot of death (that's then reversed because of Barry). Nothing about the episode really comes together well, and it's just a slog to get through the episode. If this episode could have been fun and care-free like the first half, maybe this whole shindig would have worked better. But then if it was fun it really wouldn't have felt like Arrow.
As an example of the broody nature of the episode, Oliver discovers that he has a secret kid with a girl he knew years prior. This son, Oliver, lives in Central City, but the only way Oliver can have a relationship with William is if he keeps the kid's existence a secret, even from his fiancee Felicity. So he does and then, in the first time line, it comes out and Felicity is pissed off and breaks up with Oliver. It's a classic Arrow plot line, and by that I mean it forces Oliver into an impossible choice and no matter what he does everyone is mad at him and he ends up sinking further into himself. Put another way, it's a stupid twist that drags his plot line down. Every interaction in the episode is like this: two people talk, one of them gets mad, and then nothing is really accomplished and everyone walks away sadder than before. It gets tedious after a while.
Really, the best that can be said for this episode is that in the end Savage, Hawkman, and Hawkgirl all the leave the series and we wouldn't have to see them again for a few more months (when Legends launched). Good riddance because, damn, Savage and Hawkman sucked.
Arrow, Season 4, Episode 15: Taken
Now, I know what you're thinking: I don't remember "Taken" being a crossover episode. And it's not, not in the traditional sense anyway. It doesn't feature Barry or Constantine, so it's not a crossover with one of the traditional series. Instead, "Taken" features the first on-screen appearance of Mari McCabe (Megalyn Echikunwoke), aka Vixen, a hero with the power to summon the souls of animals and use them to give her strength. Vixen first appeared in the two-season CW Seed web-series, Vixen, where Oliver and Barry (voiced by their original actors) ended up in Detroit in search of new meta-humans. There they meet Vixen and, after some confusion, help her defend her city against a supernatural threat (or two).
After that series aired, the thought was to bring Vixen to the live-action universe and, eventually, spin her out as part of the team for Legends of Tomorrow (although that wouldn't happen until season two and with a different actress playing the hero). Since Vixen had her own titular series, this feels like a crossover in our books (plus, like the two-part crossover we just discussed, it eventually ended up setting up yet another character for Legends of Tomorrow).
In "Taken" Damien Dahrk learns about the existence of Oliver's son. Oliver, it should be noted, has been running for mayor of Star City this season, so Dahrk kidnaps William and uses him as leverage to get Oliver to drop out of the race (Dahrk, of course, has his own candidate in the ring and wants them to win instead). This forces Oliver to reveal to Felicity, and the rest of his team, the existence of William. Then Oliver and Felicity have the exact same conversation they had over in the first time line of "Heroes of Tomorrow" (a nice touch, honestly) before the put aside hurt feelings to work to find William. Since his son is being hid via magical means (remember, Dahrk has magic at his disposal), Oliver calls in yet another magically-enhanced friend to help track down the boy: Vixen.
Unfortunately, their first attempt at getting his son back doesn't go well. Just to keep his kid alive, Oliver goes on TV and drops out of the race. They still have to find William, though, as more than likely Dahrk will kill the kid regardless. The team, with Vixen's help, tracks down the kid once more and this leads to a confrontation with Dahrk. And, this time (with the power of Vixen behind them), they're finally able to get the upper-hand on Dahrk. At least for a little while...
This episode, honestly, is a bit of a mess, and I'm starting to think maybe the whole season was just not very good (it's been long enough that I can't really remember how it went, but honestly the fact that this season seems so unmemorable in retrospect probably tells us something). I like the fact that the series brought Vixen in for a live-action appearance, it just could have picked a better episode (or episodes) to put her powers to the test. She's mostly used here to track people (with her wolf abilities) and then punch people (as a rhino or a gorilla). Considering she can use any animal that has even existed, the show doesn't get very creative with what it asks her to do.
Now, admittedly, that's probably because the show is on a budget and trying to replicate the things Mari could do in the animated web-series via live-action would probably have broken their budget. Still, for a character with a lot of creativity in her abilities, the episode really didn't seem to want try anything special or new. Not that Legends really was able to get a better handle on her powers down the road -- hell, maybe this character should have just stayed animated.
The big issue is that Vixen is shoehorned in to an episode that really didn't need her. Anyone could have tracked down William (Ollie has found many ways to track people in the past), and just about anyone can hit hard and break things, so what exactly did Vixen really need to do here? It's nice that they brought Vixen in but when the she roll she played in the episode could have been done with anyone, I'm not really sure why they bothered.
So yeah, on the whole, Arrow went 0-for-3 on its crossovers this year. Thankfully we have one more, non-Arrow episode to let us end on a high note.
Supergirl, Season 1, Episode 18: Worlds Finest
Over on the The Flash, in the lead up to this episode, our titular hero has been battling Zoom, an evil speedster from a different version of Earth who is trying to kill Barry, and all other speedsters, and steal their power. To try and stop Zoom, Barry has to be able to open breeches and cross dimensions, and that requires him to run really, really fast. using a special speed device, Barry attempts this feat only to cross too far and end up in Supergirl's home city instead.
It's useful that he did, though, as Supergirl has her own problems. A new villain, Silver Banshee, has just come in to her powers (after a few episodes dealing with an unpowered version of the character who was serving as a foil for Supergirl's secret identity, Kara Danvers). Vowing revenge on Kara, Banshee learns about another one of Supergirl's villains, Livewire; she frees the electricity-based villain out of prison and the two start to terrorize the city to lure Supergirl out. Thankfully, with Barry at her side, Kara has the backup she needs to try and defeat these two powerful meta-humans. Kara gains a partner for the fight, and they both become fast friends. And then, of course, Kara helps Barry find a way home.
It's amusing to think about how this crossover came into existence. At the start of the season, CBS (which was airing Supergirl) vowed their show would remain separate from the rest of the Arrowverse -- it might have shared show-runners but it wasn't going to be a part of the larger 'verse. But then Supergirl's ratings started to taper off, and CBS wanted to give the show a jolt. Enter Barry Allen, stage left -- CBS got a crossover to goose their show a little, and we, the fans, got to see the two bubbliest characters in the Arrowverse join forces.
Honestly, the first season of Supergirl was powered entirely by Kara's bubbly spirit. She's such a happy, light character played with effervescence by Melissa Benoist; putting her with Barry Allen (Grant Gustin), who is such a great, funny character on his show, was the perfect match. The two actors (who, apparently, had worked together before on Glee) fed off each other, upping the fun and light-hearted nature of the show even further.
There are so many good little moments in the episode, from Barry running off to get ice cream for the team (and Kara's reaction after) to this big, climactic fight (and Barry witty repartee). This episode was firing on all cylinders and it was clear the writers really loved being able to let loose and play with a new character in their series. The episode is a totally blast and it showed that Supergirl really needed to crossover with the 'verse more, not less. Thankfully, after this season the showed moved to the CW and Kara (and her crew) became more regular fixtures in the greater 'verse.
Honestly, about the only part of the show that doesn't work is the villains. Silver Banshee and Livewire are C-list goons at best and neither of them are played with gusto. They lack the chemistry of Kara and Barry, a stark (and tedious) contrast to all the great work being done over in the hero plot line. A better villain probably would have kicked this episode up a notch or two and brought it all together perfectly.
Still, even with that problem this episode is easily one of the best crossovers the Arrowverse has yet done. It's light, it's funny, and it's enjoyable to watch more than once. It's a great way to finish out this recap of the season.