Everyone Hates Nazis (For Good Reason)

Arrowverse Crossovers: 2017/2018 Season

This year only featured one crossover this time around, but it was a big one: "Crisis on Earth-X". This time the crossover occurred over all four 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. series -- Supergirl, Arrow, The Flash, and Legends of Tomorrow -- plus it also had a prequel that tied in, Freedom Fighters: The Ray. It is, without a doubt, one of the most ambitious crossover events in television history, perhaps even beating out "Crisis on Infinite Earths" (although we'll have to see how that event finishes up before we can make our final call there).

Arrowverse: Crisis on Earth-X

Let's see what happens when Nazis from another world invade the prime dimension of the Arrowverse. It's time for "Crisis on Earth-X" which, weirdly, begins on Earth-1.

Supergirl, Season 3, Episode 8: Crisis on Earth-X, Part 1

The story opens with the wedding of Barry Allen and Iris West. It's a cute little montages as all the heroes from across the four series try and figure out if they RSVP'd to the wedding, and then they all get ready to head to Central City for the big event. There's talk of love and loss, how Oliver wants to marry Felicity, how Kara lost Mon-El when he got trapped in the future (and got married), how everyone is either happy or doomed to lives alone. Then come the actual wedding itself, which starts really well before being interrupted by Nazis from another world. No, really, the Nazis are from Earth-X, a mysterious 53rd Earth in the multiverse that no one ever talks about because it's ruled by Nazis. For whatever reason the Nazis, lead by two mysterious super-powered leader, attack the wedding, are fought off, then retreat.

Pretty soon the heroes of Earth-1 (and Kara and Alex from Earth-38) regroup at Star Labs to try and figure out what's going on. Oliver and Kara note how evenly matched they were with the supers from Earth-X -- as Oliver puts it, "he matched me shot for shot" -- which leads them to realize they might be fighting their own Earth-X doppelgangers. Whatever the Earth-X villains want, whatever they're after, the team of heroes has to band together to figure it out and fight off these villains once and for all.

To the credit of "Crisis on Earth-X", this crossover doesn't feel like four individual episodes of the respective shows just themed around the villains of the week (unlike the previous year's "Invasion!" which totally felt like episodes from each of the shows, just with the aliens in the background). It's best to think of "Earth-X" as one continuous story, essentially a three-hour movie broken up across four-episodes and two-nights. It's nice in one regard because it never feels like the show is focusing on certain characters over others; everyone has plot lines that carry through the four-episode event and all the major characters get equal due over the course of the crossover.

The one downside of the crossover, though, is that everyone has to get introduced in this first episode, and a lot of time is spent recapping back-stories and making sure viewers are up to date on where all the various heroes may be in their lives. While the CW hoped people would watch all the various shows and keep up with all the events, it was pretty obvious they also knew not everyone had that kind of time or inclination. That means that while the crossover event would end up furthering stories for all the characters (making it essential viewing for all four episodes even if you only paid attention to Arrow or The Flash), a lot of time had to be spent at the start making sure causal viewers knew what the heck was going on.

That means this first episode of the run is the lightest on plot or story. Instead, it trades all that for casual character introductions and time spent hanging out with all the characters. The first episode does drag a bit at times with all the setup it has to do, but at the same time I did end up enjoying this episode for what it was. Especially after you go through and watch the whole crossover, with how dark and broody it could get, this first episode feels light and cheery (there is a wedding, after all), making it a bright point for the event. It might not be the fastest paced but it is enjoyable in its own right, having its fun charms before the story really kicks in.

Notes:
  • I like the subtle political jab here of all the heroes saying "I hate Nazis". It's a sentiment that you wouldn't think would need to be reiterated, except of course of the fact that we have a President right now who says all the dog whistles that encourage White Nationalists and Neo-Nazis. So it's important things like this get said. We should all hate Nazis.
  • At the end of this episode (and recurring through the rest of the crossover), we have the reveal of the evil Flash from Earth-X which is the Harrison Wells version of the Reverse-Flash. The curious thing about this is that in the prequel movie, Freedom Fighters: The Ray, the evil flash of Earth-x is called Blitzkrieg and he's the Earth-X version of Barry Allen. No explanation is given for the change of Flashes between the movie and the crossover.

Arrow, Season 6, Episode 8: Crisis on Earth-X, Part 2

The heroes are desperate for a way to track the Nazis. And that's when the Team figures out that thee evil Kryptonian (whoever it may be but obviously its evil Supergirl) is giving up a radiation signature that can be tracked. This leads the heroes to follow the clues to a lab on the outskirts of Central City where the three Nazi masterminds have gone. There Oliver, Kara, and Barry confront the Nazi leaders: the evil Oliver, Dark Archer, fuhrer of the Earth-X fatherland; the evil Kara, Overgirl, general of the Nazi armies and wife of Oliver; and the Reverse-Flash, Eobard Thawn of Earth-1, who's teamed up with the Nazis to get his revenge on Barry and the heroes (because that somehow makes sense, I guess).

This, naturally, leads to a battle, but while Oliver is able to wound Overgirl (with a kryptonite arrow) and put the villains on the ropes, the villains are able to escape with a device they were after. They also damage a nearby building, forcing the heroes to rush off to save people and prevent the building's collapse while the villains retreat. Typical villain move. This leaves the heroes empty handed with only information on what the villains stole: the device called Prism which can create any kind of light that exists in the universe. This information doesn't seem immediately useful, but knowing who the villains are does make them easier to track. This sends much of the team off to a warehouse the Nazis are using as their base in Earth-1.

The heroes confront the villains, a big battle ensues that, initially, the heroes seem to be winning. Meanwhile another fight ensues over at Star Labs as more Nazis try to break in there to occupy the facility. Unfortunately, everything quickly falls apart and the heroes at both places are captured. The main team is sent to Earth-X to, eventually, be killed while the heroes at Star Labs are put into the cells in the pipeline. Worst of all, Kara is captured and the real plan is revealed: Overgirl is dying from over-exposure to solar radiation and the only way to save her is a heart transplant from a viable donor. That donor, of course, would be Kara and the procedure would, naturally kill her. Prism will be used to make red sunlight that would weaken Kara. Everything falls into place for the villains and all hope is lost as the heroes are scattered and defeated at the end of episode two of this crossover.

Here we have a much more action-focused storyline that does get to the heart of the matter. We learn why the villains are on Earth-1, we find out who they are, their full plan, and just how much trouble they could be. It's a lot of story conveyed quickly while also getting to the action and adventure at the heart of the story. Any complaints about how slow the first episode of the crossover might have been were shoved aside with this episode, which, for the most part, was great.

That said, this episode isn't as fun as the previous one. Some of that can be chalked up this hour of the crossover being the Arrow episode and that show is, normally, the moodiest of the 'verse. There are a few moments of levity (like a spot where the three heroes are traveling to confront the three Nazi villains and we get a little bit of humor) but for the most part this episode is much darker and a lot less funny than the previous episode. Sure, it had Nazis in it, but that doesn't preclude the superheroics from being fun at all. These are bright and colorful characters fighting evil versions of themselves from another universe; there's something inherently silly in that concept, but the show doesn't really find much fun to be had here.

I think, over all, this episode is stronger than the lead in. I just think a few more moments of brightness and humor would have helped to keep this crossover from getting mired in the darkness. And, with the way this episode ends, it's going to get darker before it find the light again...

Notes:
  • This is the episode that establishes, once again, that there are only 52 Earths in the Arrowverse... except, of course, for the 53rd, Earth-X, the one where the Nazis won World War III. And, of course, that rule was quietly shoved aside when it came time for "Crisis on Infinite Earths" as now we have so many of them (or had, at least, as many of them get destroyed in the "Crisis"). At least 666 of them, with that Earth being the highest number revealed so far, the one with Lucifer.

The Flash, Season 4, Episode 8: Crisis on Earth-X, Part 3

Picking up the next night (for the viewers), we find our heroes in deep trouble. Oliver and his team are on Earth-X, in a concentration camp, awaiting the orders to kill them. Meanwhile, the rest of the heroes are either sitting in cells in the pipeline, or, in the case of Kara, are on an operating table, run sunlight beaming down on her, waiting for the moment when she'll be cut open and killed. Only two people are still free, and it's the two without any super powers: Iris and Felicity. They have three objectives: one, to free Kara; two free the rest of the heroes in the pipeline; and three, to get a distress signal out to the Legends, wherever they are, so they can come to the rescue and help everyone.

Meanwhile, on Earth-X, Oliver and his team are saved by a couple of unlikely heroes: the Ray, who was seemingly just a prisoner standing in line to die with them but, in reality, is a superhero of Earth-X with light-based powers; and also Leonard "Leo" Snart, Commander Cold of Earth-X. These two stage a prison break (which would be more thrilling if they weren't somehow able to miraculously dodge hundreds of bullets fired at them) and lead the team to the headquarters of the Earth-X resistance.

At the base the heroes learn of the portal that can get them home, but it's in heavily occupied territory and the heroes will have to figure out a way into the base. This leads Oliver to dress up as the Dark Archer and go into Nazi territory as if he owns the place. While he leads his team inside the base, Flash and the Ray have to fight off another threat: Red Tornado, a resistance machine sent to the base to blow it up (because the resistance leaders doubt the Earth-1 heroes will be able to save the day or even survive their ruse). This, of course, leads to another big fight, and, in the process, Professor Stein (one half of the hero Firestorm) is critically injured by Nazi gunfire... but not before he's able to activate the portal and save all the heroes.

This episode is interesting but not without its flaws. On the one hand, I appreciate the commitment this crossover has in exploring all its crazy ideas. Having the Nazis from Earth-X come to Earth-1 just meant needing new costumes for some of the actors but actually having people go over to Earth-X meant new sets and hight production costs. The CW doesn't exactly have a huge budget but for this they were willing to spend money on sets that weren't just redecorated versions of ones we already knew. While there aren't a a lot of new sets -- one underground base, a few warehouse to stand in for Nazi bases -- it's more than I'd expect from the CW. It might not be epic scaled recreations of all of Earth-X (this isn't Star TrekOriginally conceived as "Wagon Train in Space", Star Trek was released during the height of the Hollywood Western film and TV boom. While the concept CBS originally asked for had a western vibe, it was the smart, intellectual stories set in a future utopia of science and exploration that proved vital to the series' long impact on popular culture.) but it's something.

That said, the Earth-X part of the story is pretty lackluster, all things considered. This chapter really does amount to, "run from this base, hide at this base, go back to this base, and sprinkle on some bad CGI." It's basically a glorified fetch quest and while I appreciate the early part of the episode making it seem like the heroes are in a bleak spot, once the episode really gets going it just feels like another case of the week, just this time with Nazis thrown in.

The Earth-1 portion of the story is a touch more interesting, to be fair. Here, because it's just a couple of mortal humans trying to save the day the exploits are much more thrilling. Being the squishiest people on the team due to their lack of powers, Iris and Felicity have the most to lose if things go tits-up. But they fact that they step up and try to be heroes makes their story more compelling. It's weird to think that with all the super-beings on the show, as well as all the Nazis, its the storyline of two basic humans that wins the day here.

Notes:
  • The Nazis are as bad at hitting targets in this episode as Stormtroopers.

Legends of Tomorrow, Season 3, Episode 8: Crisis on Earth-X, Part 4

Finally we get to the grand finale. The Earth-1 heroes have arrived back on their home world while, additionally, the Legends arrive from whatever time they were in, here to save Kara from the Nazis in Star Labs and free the other heroes as well. The Nazis are sent packing again, their plans shattered and their only hope of saving Overgirl lost. It seems like they'll have to head home to plot and scheme for another day (like how the Dominators were sent home but not really defeated last year).

However, the Nazis have one last ploy to try: a super weapon, their own version of the Wave Rider, that they can use to attack Central City and strike fear into Earth-1. Worse, Overgirl's condition is rapidly fading with the evil general losing control. At any moment she could go nova, exploding like a giant bomb over Central City, killing millions. The Nazis will leave, they say, but Supergirl has to go with them. This is, of course, a condition of surrender the heroes won't accept.

So we have one last big confrontation, Heroes vs. Nazis, with the Earth-X armies charging across Central City to take over the metropolis before moving out into the rest of the world. The only line of defense against them: the heroes of Earth-1, who band together and battle back the Nazis. The evil forces end up defeated, Oliver kills the Dark Archer, Reverse-Flash is sent packing (but not killed) by Barry, and Kara ends up having to fly Overgirl out into space before she explodes, saving the world. The day is saved and the Earth-X Reich is defeated, for good.

Sadly, for the team, one member doesn't make it: Professor Stein. He was injured at the end of the last episode and willingly gives up his life to save his companion (and other half of Firestorm), Jax. Stein gives up his life, and the rest of the team mourns as he's laid to rest. Out of this sadness, though, comes happiness as Barry and Iris finally have their wedding, this time a small ceremony without all the Nazis. And, right at the last moment, Oliver and Felicity jump in and get married as well, two for the price of one. It's a happy finish to this elaborate and complicated crossover event.

Okay, now that we're through it all, lets talk about what really worked (and what really didn't) about this event. One big improvement this crossover had over "Invasion!" was the emphasis on story, making this into one long event instead of just three inter-connected, individual episodes. I know I mentioned that before, but it's worth touching upon this briefly again because it really makes this feel like a solid, cohesive show. It's not Supergirl followed by Arrow and etc.; it's all "Crisis on Earth-X" (complete with its own opening credit sequence).

The other thing I really liked was that the show minimized it's use of CGI. Yes, there was a big battle between Flash, the Ray, and Red Tornado that was almost exclusively CGI (and that section didn't really work), but most of the fights here were between the heroes, played by real people, and the Nazis, also played by real people. There was none of the CGI minions that made the fights in "Invasion!" feel some empty and inconsequential (and are also dragging down the most recent crossover, "Crisis on Infinite Earths". The battles here have weight and substance while makes them so much more interesting to watch.

The big issue with "Earth-X", though, is that the Nazis never feel like much of a threat. There are a few moments where they seem like possible dangers -- when Kara is on the operating table and the Reverse-Flash has a scalpel poised over her; when the heroes are all in a concentration camp in Earth-X -- but these moments are fleeting. Most of the time the Nazi forces just feel like a small squad of goons with the only power behind them being the three generals, and since the heroes vastly outnumber them the generals don't even seem like that big a threat. This is made clear in the last fight when the Nazis are defeated and you can easily see just how out-matched the Nazis truly are.

The Nazis just don't have a plan that works, not for a full-scale invasion of Earth-1. They have one portal and limited forced queued up at it -- a few tanks, a few soldiers, and one Waverider. That's a squad that could be defeated by a handful of heroes or just a bunch of cops. How they expect to take over Earth-1 with those forces when there's the entire combined might of Earth's military forces is never made clear. I guess Overgirl will somehow do it all herself once she's healed? That seems like a lot to expect.

I will admit that the Nazi forces seem like more of a threat than the Dominators from "Invasion!" but that's only because the aliens in the previous crossover hardly felt like a threat at all. I have to assume the producers figured, "Nazis are bad and everyone knows it," and just figured they could get away with it. Just adding Nazis to something doesn't make it seem more thrilling or scarier, though; you have to have a story to go with them and while the idea of an evil Supergirl coming after the good one to steal her heart is a solid story, nothing else going on around them works nearly as well. If the show would have just focused on this and not tried to raise the specter of a full-scale Nazi invasion I think it might have worked better.

Still, you have to give credit to the Arrowverse for trying for something epic and glorious. "Crisis on Earth-X" is (so far) the best crossover the series has yet done, and certainly it's most ambitious to date. It's a cohesive piece of storytelling that swings for the fences and doesn't play it too safe. It doesn't always hit its mark, and maybe falls apart in places under the weight and the silliness of its storytelling, but it's still largely enjoyable start to finish. It's not perfect, but then this is the Arrowverse; perfect was probably too much to expect.

Notes:
  • Seriously, I like how the fights here are largely practical effects. I wish the big crossovers in the 'verse would do this more often.