Spoilers are coming at the speed of light, so beware
Buffy The Vampire Slayer's “Once More With Feeling” raised the bar for television musical episodes. You’d be hard-pressed to find another that could come close to matching it — or its ability to push various storylines forward in song and dance that would have taken several episodes to do in dialogue and action. “Duet,” the most recent episode of The Flash, does an admirable job of reaching for that bar and meeting it in its own way.
As was the case with last year’s “Invasion” crossover storyline between Supergirl, The Flash, Arrow and Legends Of Tomorrow, “Duet” kicks off at the tail end of a Supergirl episode (in this case, “Star-Crossed” — raising the question of why the Girl Of Steel (Melissa Benoist) gets such short shrift in these things). In it, she has just broken up with her boyfriend from planet Daxem, Mon-El (Chris Wood) due to his lying to her about his past. Returning to the DEO, her friend and co-worker, Winn Schott (Jeremy Jordan), hands her an improved device to allow her to travel to other worlds in the Multiverse. No sooner has he done so than a portal opens, emitting a stranger (to be identified later as the Music Meister, and played by Darren Criss) who looks into Supergirl’s eyes, causes her to pass out and leaves, proclaiming his need to find the “fastest man alive.” He disappears, and we’re suddenly inside Kara’s mind, where she finds herself in a nightclub setting and being told it’s time for her to hit the stage. Terrified, she doesn’t know what to do as she’s shoved in front of an audience.
Meanwhile on The Flash, lots of emotion on display. Wally West (Keiynan Lonsdale) is still dealing with the aftermath of having been stuck in the Speed Force, where he was forced to watch the death of his mother over and over again; Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) and Iris West (Candice Patton) have broken up (for reasons too complicated to get into here, suffice to say that Barry is the one who broke things off, but for all the wrong reasons). All of this is quickly re-established before the arrival of Supergirl characters Hank Henshaw (David Harewood) and Mon-El, the latter carrying her unconscious body, who are seeking Team Flash’s help in reviving her. Before anything can be done, Music Meister makes an appearance, knocks Wally aside at super speed — which obviously scares the hell out of him — and then decks Barry, plunging him into the same unconscious state as Kara.
Instantly, Barry finds himself in that same 1920s nightclub — owned by Cutter Moran (John Barrowman, better known on the DC shows as Malcomn Merlyn), where Kara is on stage singing “Moon River,” captivating the audience and Barry himself. After the song the two of them start comparing notes, before they’re interrupted first by Cutter, then by characters in this world played by Jordan and Carlos Valdes (Cisco/Vibe on The Flash). And then they see Music Meister, who informs them they have to reach the end of the plot before they can go home — with the caveat that if they die here, they die for real. Trying to keep spirits up, Music Meister kicks off the opening lyrics of “Put A Little Love In Your Heart,” which results in the entire cast breaking into a song and dance number. It feels like the type of sequence that could have come from any episode of Glee, not surprising considering that Benoist, Gustin and Criss starred on that Ryan Murphy series. What is a surprise (though given his Broadway background it shouldn’t be) is Jordan’s moments in the spotlight. The dude can sing.
Shortly thereafter, Barry and Kara are captured by a pair of gangsters (Flash’s Jesse L. Martin and Legends of Tomorrow’s Victor Garber), who want them to poke around Cutter’s operation to find their missing daughter, Millie (Patton). To keep from being killed, the duo agree, ultimately finding Millie in the arms of Cutter’s son, Tommy (Wood). On Kara and Barry's grossed-out expressions over some form of their loved ones being in an embrace with the other, the action cuts to Central City, where Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker) comes to the conclusion that something has been draining the powers of The Flash and Supergirl. The reason becomes obvious when Music Meister uses his newfound abilities to break into Central City Bank. Kid Flash, Martian Manhunter, and Cisco/Vibe arrive, and defeat him — Kid Flash being the one to truly incapacitate him. It’s a very effective, well-choreographed sequence, and goes a long way in restoring Kid Flash’s confidence.
Back in the musical world, Millie and Tommy are determined to keep their relationship a secret, but Kara and Barry, embracing the tropes of musicals, convince them to tell their fathers the truth. Despite their initial opposition (the fathers are enemies, after all), they seem to understand the love of their kids. This in turn leads to an amazingly sung version of “More I Cannot Wish” by Martin, Campbell and Barrowman. This, of course, turns out to be complete bull, as the fathers declare war on each other moments after they're done singing.
Central City: Mon-El and Iris go to see the imprisoned Music Meister, demanding a means of setting Kara and Barry free. His surprising response is that they have the power the do so, if their love is strong enough. The only thing is: they’ll have to figure out how to enter that dream world on their own.
Musical Realm: Cutter orders Kara and Barry to perform, and they do a number called “Super Friend,” an original song all about them being there for each other. It’s a great number and a lot of fun (though we're less pleased with Barry dissing Superman at one point — not cool, speedster!). War breaks out, with Barry and Kara getting shot in the crossfire. Back in the real world, realizing that something has gone terribly wrong given Barry and Kara's vital signs, Cisco vibes Iris and Mon-El into the dream world. Upon their arrival, they see that Kara and Barry are near death, but it’s the power of their love that saves them, causing Barry and Kara to awaken in the real world both physically and emotionally
Then Music Meister shows up, having easily escaped his cell, and tells them that all of this has been about love — that Barry and Kara needed to learn that, in his own words, they were “two people with two broken hearts..Love is about letting yourself be saved, it’s not just about saving other people.” So nothing nefarious there, just the fact that he "sees everything” and is looking out for the good guys.
The Supergirl cast (including a reunited in love Kara and Mon-El) heads back home, while Barry meets Iris, breaking into the original song “Runnin’ Home To You,” which culminates with him re-proposing to her in an extremely touching moment. And for the record, she says "yes."
Insofar as crossovers are concerned, perhaps the biggest surprise with "Duet" is how effective it is, how well members of these casts can sing, and that in many ways it's more satisfying than the epic "Invasion" storyline was. Much of this could have to do with the fact that the spotlight shines so brightly on the two most endearing performers in this DC TV universe, Benoist and Gustin, who have a genuine chemistry with each other that has nothing to do with sexual tension. One can only hope that the producers of both shows will come up with future plot devices to bring them together more often.
If there is a weak spot to be found, it might be in the Music Meister himself, Darren Criss. Perhaps designed to be more whimsical than he comes across, we don't get much of a sense of who this guy is. Admittedly there is dialogue where he establishes at the end what he's about, but enigmatic without payoff is frustrating.
Like the aforementioned "Once More With Feeling," "Duet accomplishes the same goal of providing dramatic forward momentum, allowing the characters to move to the next level, whether in terms of romance (as in the case of Barry/Iris, Kara/Mon-El) or putting personal demons at bay (Barry, Wally), without taking numerous episodes to do so.
In a flashback at the outset of the episode, young Barry watches the film classic Singing In The Rain with his mother. During it she comments that everything is better in song. "Duet" proves that she's absolutely right.
Three out of Four Stars