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The Dominators are here, and they love spoilers, so beware
Marvel Studios, being the clever bastards that they are, set its core group of heroes up in their own films before bringing them together in The Avengers, an adventure that was largely standalone (albeit carrying over a few plot elements from the solo films). And based on all of the promos and trailers for the four-episode small screen crossover of Supergirl, The Flash, Arrow and Legends Of Tomorrow, it seemed like DC was following suit. In the end… not so much.
To be sure, the event, given the umbrella title “Invasion”, is ambitious and well-constructed, and while the heroes from the various shows do come together, much of the episodes making up the crossover remain very much in continuity of that show’s seasonal storyline. In fact, in some ways it feels as though the network was attempting a stunt that would draw a larger sampling to each with the hopes the audience would stick around for subsequent shows. As a result, to some degree the alien storyline feels like little more than the McGuffin that brings them together rather than a vital component that’s explored in any sort of depth.
The premise of the crossover, as the title suggests, deals with the arrival of extraterrestrials. Known as the Dominators, it initially seems that their goal is to subjugate humanity, but as things unfold, it becomes apparent that they’re hoping to remove meta-humans from around the globe to preserve their future (more on this later).
One could argue that another McGuffin is the idea that this is a four-part crossover. In reality, although the characters from all four shows appear, it kicks off with episode eight of Supergirl’s second season, “Medusa,” which, while being one of the strongest episodes of the year so far, also has only the barest of connections to “Invasion.” Twice during the show a dimensional rift briefly opens before vanishing and only at episode’s end does Kara Danvers (Supergirl) come home to her apartment to find Barry Allen (The Flash) and Cisco Ramon (Vibe) waiting for her. Barry, who met her last season on Supergirl in the crossover "World’s Finest," introduces her to Cisco and then states that he needs her help. That is the full connection that the episode has to the crossover (and the same scene is repeated in the episode of The Flash).
The Flash: Season 3, Episode 8 — Invasion
Starring: Grant Gustin (Barry Allen/The Flash) Candice Patton (Iris West), Danielle Panabaker (Caitlin Snow/Killer Frost), Carlos Valdes (Cisco Ramon/Vibe), Keiynan Lonsdale (Wally West/Kid Flash), Tom Cavanagh (HR Wells), Jesse L. Martin (Detective Joe West); Guest Starring: Stephen Amell (Oliver Queen/Green Arrow), Franz Drameh (Jefferson “Jax” Jackson/Firestorm), Victor Garber (Martin Stein/Firestorm), Willa Holland (Thea Queen/Speedy), Caity Lotz (Sara Lance/White Canary), Dominic Purcell (Mick Rory/Heat Wave), David Ramsey (John Diggle/Spartan), Emily Bett Rickards (Felicity Smoak), Brandon Routh (Ray Palmer/The Atom), Melissa Benoist (Kara Danvers/Supergirl), Audrey Marie Anderson (Lyla Michaels), Christina Brucato (Lilly Stein), Jerry Wasserman (President Of The United States); Written by Aaron Helbing and Todd Helbing from a story by Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg); Directed by Dermott Downs
Things really get started on The Flash, which kicks off with Supergirl, most of Team Arrow and the Legends Of Tomorrow menacingly approaching The Flash and Green Arrow before things move back ten hours. At that point, Barry tracks a falling meteor, which he discovers is actually a spacecraft that is unleashing hordes of aliens. What’s revealed by Lyla Michaels, the director of A.R.G.U.S. (and John Diggle’s wife) is that these aliens are the Dominators, and that they had been on Earth in the 1950s, where they abducted humans for intel and, after a battle that took hundreds of lives, simply left. Now four ships have come to Earth, intent fairly obvious. Barry goes to Oliver Queen/Green Arrow and Diggle/Spartan to seek their help, and Thea Queen/Speedy joins in. As Oliver contacts the Legends (Atom, White Canary, Firestorm, and Heat Wave), Barry and Cisco travel to Earth-38 to retrieve Supergirl (in the same sequence that ended “Medusa”).
When they return to “our” Earth, it is, admittedly, very cool to see all of these characters interacting, and one is struck by how far television visual effects have come that something like this could be pulled off so effectively without a cheese factor.
What provides weight, and is a strong dramatic element of the rest of the episode (and, indeed, all this season of The Flash) is the continuing impact of “Flashpoint.” At the end of season two, Barry decided to race backwards in time to save his mother from being murdered at the hands of the Reverse-Flash, resulting in a new timeline that he lived in for three months with both of his parents (his father killed last year by the speedster Zoom). But ultimately recognizing the danger he had put the universe in by creating this timeline, he went back to let his mother die and put things as they were, only it didn’t entirely work. While much of reality shifted back, there were significant changes, the repercussions of which are still being felt and likely will continue to be.
In this new timeline, Cisco’s brother, Dante, had died in a car accident that wasn’t supposed to happen, and, despite the fact it seemed he and Barry were working through this, his resentment is continuing to grow. The conflict is a very real one, and not one easily resolved.
Things get even more complicated when Professor Stein and Jax (the two sides of Firestorm) reveal to Barry and Oliver an audio message taken from their time-traveling vessel the Waverider, which came from Barry forty years in the future, revealing what he did to the timeline and how no one can be trusted in the present, including his younger self. In one of the strongest moments of the episode, Barry goes to the rest of the team (who voted him leader) to admit to everything that happened, and what his future self had to say. And the reveal is painful: Caitlin Snow, as we have seen, has developed the powers of Killer Frost, which she’s trying to control; Diggle has a son named John instead of a daughter named Sara; and, as he visits his home, Stein discovers that he has an adult daughter he knows nothing about.
This leaves much of the group devastated and, after receiving word that the Dominators have taken the President Of The United States, them wanting to leave Barry behind because they really don’t know whether or not he can be trusted. Oliver protests and ultimately stays behind as well. When alone, Oliver tries to give Barry a pep talk about the guilt he’s feeling and, in truth, seems far too accepting of what happened. But it is another strong emotional scene as Oliver recounts the separate deaths of his parents in front of him, noting that if he could have, he would have gone back to save them. Once again, Stephen Amell and Grant Gustin prove the connection they have with each other as performers.
In the end, it’s actually fortuitous that Barry and Oliver aren’t there, the aliens using a device to take over the minds of the rest of the team (after killing the president — which, strangely, doesn’t seem to garner much of a response beyond the proclamation, “It’s a trap!”) and setting them after the other two. A very cool battle follows that, between writing and effects, truly does feel like a comic book sequence brought to life. While that battle is going on, Cisco and Felicity Smoak find the source of the mind control, so The Flash leads Supergirl on a chase there, tricking her into destroying it and freeing the heroes from Dominator control.
Their final moment of victory is taken away from them, when the Dominators transport Oliver, Thea, Diggle, Palmer and Sara aboard their vessel, leading to the next installment.
Perhaps most surprising about the episode is how small a role the aliens themselves actually play in it. Again, at this point it seems as though they were brought in merely as an excuse to bring the heroes together (not that there’s anything really wrong with that).
Cool visual: The warehouse of Star Labs, where everyone gathers, looks like the old Hall Of Justice from the animated Super Friends show.
And for those watching The Flash regularly, Wally West’s super speed (which has been building the past few episodes) kicks in fully, though everyone tries talking him down from his excitement in an effort to protect him. Ultimately HR (this season’s take on Harrison Wells) agrees to secretly train him (which will no doubt go disastrously wrong at some point), especially after Wally has successfully rescued Oliver and Barry from the aliens.
Arrow Season 5, Episode 8 — Invasion
Starring: Stephen Amell (Oliver Queen/Green Arrow), David Ramsey (John Diggle/Spartan), Willa Holland (Thea Queen/Speedy), Emily Bett Rickards (Felicity Smoak/Overwatch), Echo Kellum (Curtis Holt/Mister Terrific), Josh Segarra (Adrian Chase/Vigilante), Paul Blackthorne (Quentin Lance); Guest Starring: John Barrowman (Malcolm Merlyn/Dark Archer), Neal McDonough (Damien Darhk), Grant Gustin (The Flash), Katie Cassidy (Laurel Lance), Susanna Thompson (Moira Queen), Caity Lotz (Sara Lance), Brandon Routh (Ray Palmer), Carlos Valdes (Cisco Ramon), Nick Zano (Nate Heywood), Melissa Benoist (Supergirl), Rick Gonzalez (Rene Ramirez/Wild Dog), Joe Dinicol (Rory Regan/Ragman), Jamey Sheridan (Robert Queen), Erica Luttrell (Laura Washington); Written by Marc Guggenheim and Wendy Mericle from a story by Greg Berlanti; Directed by James Bamford
The 100th episode of Arrow just happened to fall in the middle of the “Invasion” crossover, and the show’s creators have endeavored to tell a story that is a part of that event while also staying true to the history of this, the longest-running entry in the “Berlantiverse”.
Things start off in an extremely unusual way: Oliver Queen is happy. And he’s also just gotten out of a shower with Laurel Lance, which could be the source of that happiness...unless you consider the fact that she’s actually dead. They talk about the fact they’re getting married, before the scene cuts to Oliver in a pod aboard the Dominator spacecraft, unconscious and alongside pods containing Sara Lance, Ray Palmer, John Diggle and Thea Queen.
In the Arrow Cave, Felicity (looking a little too happy considering all that’s going on), introduces Cisco to the remnants of Team Arrow. Using Oliver’s bow, Cisco “vibes” and is able to see the interior of the vessel that the others are being held in. He gives a device taken from the crashed Dominator ship for Curtis to try and understand the alien technology. To get help, Wild Dog, Flash and Supergirl go up against the scientist who stole tech from a facility that’s vital to what they need to do; technology she’s used to give her enhanced abilities. In a short, and seemingly unnecessary scene, the three of them take her down.
Throughout the episode, Oliver and the others are living the lives that they wished they had. For him, Laurel and his parents are still alive, his future father-in-law (Quentin Lance) genuinely seems to respect him and is happy to welcome him to the family, and his father believes him the right man to take over Queen Consolidated. Ray is engaged to Felicity, Diggle is the Green Arrow in this reality (with Felicity working the Arrow Cave with him), and Thea is just thrilled to have her family intact.
Through all of this, they’re having memory flashes from a reality different from this manufactured one, causing all of them to push back with a growing need to escape (except Thea, who for a time wants to stay there, not desiring to return to their painful reality). To hold them back from their mental escape, the Dominators unleash people from the show’s past to battle them, including Deathstroke, Malcolm Merlyn’s Dark Archer, and Damien Darhk, all of whome are ultimately dispatched.
Once the group is awake, they make their way to a pod and manage to take off, having no idea how to actually fly the craft. An Independence Day-like pursuit ensues with dozens of other space crafts closing in, before the Waverider, captained by Nate Heywood, arrives and disappears with them aboard, heading towards the final chapter in this arc.
Before leaving the Dominator-induced vision, there are a couple of significant moments. In one, Oliver has to try and convince Thea that none of this is real, but that what it has done is forced him to embrace their responsibility to other people and the world. Not for rewards — which Thea views this alternate life as — but because it’s right. It’s an important reinvigoration for Oliver, serving as a pointed reminder of why they fight. There is also the moment before they step back into reality, where Oliver is encouraged by the voices of loved ones no longer with him.
Two complaints, one minor and one a little more significant. For the former, there are way too many shots of heroes with their hands on their hips, notably Supergirl and The Flash. Who thought this was a good idea? It starts to look silly, no matter how much of an homage it’s supposed to be to the comics. Also, outside of the tech used to keep Oliver and company (the people and not, as Cisco refers to it, “the beloved animated Disney film starring Billy Joel”), this episode does virtually nothing to advance the Dominator arc. Indeed, characters like The Flash and Supergirl are very much a part of a B-story (although Team Arrow does discover a connection between the Dominator language and Hebrew).
Overall, a strong installment of Arrow, and an appropriate celebration of 100 episodes.
DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow: Season 2, Episode 7 — Invasion
Starring: Victor Garber (Martin Stein/Firestorm), Brandon Routh (Ray Palmer/The Atom), Caity Lotz (Sara Lance/White Canary), Franz Drameh (Jefferson “Jax” Jackson/Firestorm), Matt Letscher (Eobard Thawne/Reverse-Flash), Maisie Richardson-Sellers (Amaya Jiwe/Vixen), Amy Pemberton (Gideon), Nick Zano (Nate Heywood/Steel); Dominic Purcell (Mick Rory/Heat Wave; Guest Starring: Stephen Amell (Green Arrow), Grant Gustin (The Flash), Melissa Benoist (Supergirl), Emily Bett Rickards (Felicity Smoak), David Ramsey (John Diggle/Spartan), Carlos Valdes (Cisco Ramon); Written by Phil Klemmer and Marc Guggenheim from a story by Greg Berlanti; Directed by Gregory Smith
As the extended group comes back together, they quickly deduce that the Dominators held Oliver and the rest in the hopes of discovering more about meta-humans and their vulnerabilities (and that particular group consisted of the only ones who couldn’t really fight back). Nate suggests bringing the Waverider back to 1951 to capture a Dominator and gather intel of their own. To do so, he’s accompanied by Cisco, Felicity, Vixen and Heat Wave
What follows is a moment of genuine stupidity — perhaps one of the most contrived of the entire arc — when Barry mentions that the new president wants to meet with them, and Supergirl suggests she serve as backup. Oliver asks her to hang back, because he's having a hard time dealing with the situation. Apparently when he goes up against something new, he pushes back and seeks a sense of normalcy. This was born from dealing with human threats, which became meta-humans, to discovering alternate Earths, to being a prisoner on a space ship and the fact that there are aliens. He needs to “claw back a sense of normalcy.”
Are you friggin’ kidding? You’ve got an extraterrestrial threat, Supergirl is, as she points out, their strongest weapon, and he wants her to hang out? Now? And the fact that nobody fights that? It’s a genuinely moronic move for Oliver, and a surprising one for the writers to take, because there is zero logic to it. Yo, Oliver, maybe you want to claw back your normalcy after the aliens have been dealt with? Instead, we get this contrivance so that Supergirl doesn’t, you know, single-handedly take out the alien army.
Back in the ‘50s, the Legends trio heads to the battle between the army and the Dominator ship. While they’re doing this, Cisco and Felicity have a moment on the Waverider where he expresses even deeper resentment for Barry, declaring that he is not his friend. There is also a wistful bit where he reflects on the fact that he used to dream about time travel and aliens, and the reality of both is anything but a dream.
In the present, Stein’s daughter, Lilly, an expert in nano-technology, is helping him come up with a weapon to use against the Dominators, but the challenge is that he’s unable to deal with her existence. As far as he’s concerned, she’s a total stranger, or “aberration.” Caitlin asks if Lilly's existence is a result of Barry and Flashpoint, but Stein actually blames himself: On a mission to 1987 (earlier this season), he interacted with his younger self (again), and he believes that that interaction altered the timeline. Initially his intention is to go back and correct things, essentially wiping her from existence, though he comes to realize how horrible that would be as he connects with her emotionally.
Fifties: the government, or a portion of it led by a character known as “Glasses” (think “Cigarette Smoking Man” on The X-Files) captures Nate, Heat Wave and Vixen before they can get the alien to the Waverider. They awaken in a cell, where they start to question the Dominator, who responds telepathically, saying they had come to Earth to investigate the Justice Society of America to determine if they posed a threat. At that moment, the alien is taken away and presumably tortured, when the group is rescued by Cisco and Felicity, armed with weapons from the Waverider. Before they leave, Cisco suggests they show some compassion by freeing the alien, returning him to its people as a sign of good will.
In the present, the elderly Glasses has misled Barry, Oliver, Ray and Sara into thinking they’re meeting with the president, but it was a trap. Barry easily disarms his men, but is told that the Dominators see meta-humans as a future threat. He reveals that all of this is Barry’s fault; that Flashpoint has upset the balance of the universe and the only way the Dominators will leave is if Barry turns himself over to them.
As the Waverider returns to the present, the crew receives a message from the rescued alien, telling them that his gratitude for letting him live has came in the form of sparing their lives, but that if Barry Allen isn’t handed over to them, a weapon — in the form of a bomb — will be deployed that will destroy all meta-humans (while taking out a couple of million humans in the process). It is then that Cisco realizes that they also screwed up the timeline by freeing the alien, who history had originally shown was captured by the government. The one “benefit” that comes from this is that he finally understand Barry; that the intention of making things right, inadvertently made them worse. In essence, he is as guilty as Barry was of an unintentional time disruption. This forgiveness is driven home in the next sequence when Barry is determined to hand himself over to the Dominators. Oliver, Supergirl, Heat Wave (!) and the rest refuse to allow him to do so, Cisco sealing the deal by calling Barry his friend.
All of which leads to the final battle. As the Waverider goes after the meta-bomb, Stein comes in with a device that can be placed on individual Dominators and, when activated, cause extreme pain to them. Shortly thereafter, on a rooftop, the team runs towards the Dominators and they towards them, in what is an absolute lift from the Captain America: Civil War airport scene. While the fight is going on, Barry, at super speed, starts attaching the devices to the aliens. In the meantime, the Waverider has captured the meta-bomb in a tractor beam and has managed to slow its descent into the atmospher, giving Firestorm the chance to land on it and use his powers — under great physical and mental strain — to transmute the device into water, thus saving everyone. This is followed by the smaller devices being activated, causing the Dominators to react in horrible pain and racing to retreat from around the world.
Now, not to rain on the parade that is victory, but exactly why are they retreating? And why would our heroes believe for a moment that they won’t be coming back? What exactly did they do that dissuades the Dominators from their position that the meta-humans are a threat to them?
At episode’s end, the new president (a woman) holds a ceremony at the Star Labs warehouse to commend the heroes. Afterwards they have a private celebration. In a quiet moment, Kara (she’s in her civvies rather than the Supergirl outfit) comments to Oliver and Barry that on her Earth, it’s only she and Superman, but here they’ve all proven, meta-human or not, super powers or not, they are Earth’s mightiest heroes (uh...might want to come up with another nickname). And then, Oliver apologizes for keeping her at arm’s length, adding that this Earth could use a Supergirl, Kara adding that hers could use an Oliver Queen (and anyone watching Supergirl, knows that James Olsen is certainly trying to fill that role as Guardian). Things conclude with Cisco gives Kara a device that will allow her to cross over from one universe to another, or communicate with them whenever necessary.
A couple of points: The whole death of the U.S. president back in the first installment has been virtually ignored, and there is not a single emotional reaction on the part of anyone to the fact that their rescue mission in The Flash went so terribly wrong. Something as significant as that needs, at the very least, a moment of reflection. Bad miss.
Former Superman Brandon Routh comments to Felicity as Kara walks by, “You know what’s funny? She kind of looks like my cousin.”
Lots more hands on hips. Stop it!!!
“Invasion” is the proverbial mixed bag. As a crossover, it does an extremely effective job in bringing the characters from four different shows together, the rapport between them feeling natural and oftentimes genuinely funny (look for some great bits between Supergirl and Heat Wave). It also provides interesting character arcs. For instance, not shying away from the deeply-felt resentment Cisco has for Barry over Flashpoint and finally resolving it by providing true understanding rather than a superficial moment that bonds them. Oliver, despite the sense of loss from seemingly having and then losing his much-desired normalcy, ultimately realizing that while he could have been happy with a different life, it wouldn’t have necessarily been as meaningful. And then there’s Stein, who could have taken the easy way out and simply removed Lilly from existence, but, instead, recognizes her beauty as a human being, the fact that she is much more than an aberration and assuming the responsibility he should for her existence — though we're not sure how he gets back on the Waverider and leaves her behind.
The real problem with “Invasion” is that it was intended to be, and was promoted as, a massive adventure (check out the trailer above), but in reality the whole Dominators storyline was rather underwhelming. Part of that is creative — it would have been better to get a fuller understanding of who these beings really are and how they’re able to know the long-term effects of Flashpoint; plus the resolution seems awfully pat, kind of like Jeff Goldblum giving an alien technology a virus in Independence Day at a time when Macs and PCs could barely communicate with each other. The other side of it, of course, is money. The sequence in the ‘50s was pulled off well, and the Dominators in it were genuinely threatening, but, again, the final battle basically takes place on a rooftop — while intercutting to the Waverider in action — and lacks the resolutionary scope (we may have made that phrase up) that was expected.