By their very nature, mammoth superhero crossovers are overwhelming. Important characters are pushed to the margins in favor of expediency (Caitlin Snow in this case) or ignored altogether (Vixen and the other new members of Legends of Tomorrow). There is more care put into fight scenes than interpersonal relationships. These epic crossovers provide fodder for late-night arguments about whether Supergirl or the Flash is faster (which I'll get to below), but rarely do they seem to do much beyond treating each character like an action figure.
"Invasion!" is the second entry in the CW's four-part crossover event (although Supergirl's entry barely counts), and it doesn't feel like a fully formed episode of The Flash. Instead, it's a trailer for hopefully better episodes to come. It's undoubtedly thrilling to watch the CW's superheroes come together, even if it's at the behest of terribly constructed CGI aliens who casually kill the president in an attempt to take over the planet. We're left to imagine how thrilling it would be if the villains actually seemed threatening.
After an alien ship crash-lands in Central City, Barry is smart enough to know he can't handle an invasion alone. To take on the Dominators, as they've been called by the government since the 1950s (thanks for the info, Lyla!), Barry starts rounding up old comrades to protect. Getting Team Arrow is the first priority. The fact that Oliver Queen and John Diggle were almost killed by their new Big Bad until Barry saved them once again reminds me of Green Arrow's questionable talents as a hero. The team from Legends of Tomorrow are next, sans new teammates like Vixen. (I guess they're just chilling on the ship while their friends are nearly killed by aliens?) With Cisco's help, Barry jumps to another Earth to recruit his old friend Kara Danvers, a.k.a. Supergirl.
Barry is quickly thrust into a leadership role, which he seems incapable of handling without Oliver's support and suggestions. At this point, that seems a bit condescending. When The Flash premiered, Arrow was the CW's flagship superhero show in both fan and critical support, but that's not true anymore. Making Oliver seem like the gruff badass who knows better than everyone else is a tired shtick. Batman fits that role quite well in the comics, but Oliver isn't Batman, no matter how often the CW tries to sell him as a knockoff version.
Here's the problem with crossovers like this one: If you don't watch the other shows, certain nuances are lost. Is Ray telling Barry about Leonard Snart's heroic death more impactful if you actually saw it happen last season? Or does the scene's utterly on-the-nose dialogue mean it doesn't matter? The Flash doesn't just juggle the setup of this entire crossover; "Invasion!" also fails to smoothly handle the developments of its own season, tidbits from the other shows, and a bevy of interpersonal relationships with complicated history. The episode feels both overstuffed and incredibly hollow. It doesn't have the time to do these story lines justice, so each one feels cursory even though a lot is happening.
I'll be completely honest: The crossover plotline isn't all that engaging, either. The Dominators are the sort of stock villains whose only worth is getting these heroes to team up. Their motivation is almost beside the point, although using their telepathic ability to control Kara, Sara, Mick, Ray, Thea, and Jax/Professor Stein as Firestorm does give us some great hero-versus-hero action.
That fight leads me to a rant that I have been holding on to for a very long time: I find it utterly ridiculous when Superman or Supergirl is depicted as being faster than the Flash. This has pissed me off since I started reading comics as a kid. Does Kara really have to be as fast as Barry? Isn't virtual invincibility enough? The Flash and Superman race to a tie in various Silver Age comics. The Wally incarnation beat him in the "Adventures of Superman" No. 463 and Barry beat him in 2009's "Flash Rebirth" No. 3. Suggesting that Kara is this perfect creation who can best Barry at his own game made my eyes roll. Sure, Kara and Barry speeding across the city is cool to watch, but it highlights the annoying way that crossovers typically fail to admit the obvious: Yes, some heroes are more powerful than others. It's as if they don't want to anger any fans, so they instead gloss over essential character traits. Phew, okay. Rant over.
Barry is able to manipulate Kara into destroying the alien device that controls her and the other heroes, but their victory is short-lived. While the team decides their next move, Sara, Ray, Thea, Diggle, and Oliver are kidnapped by the Dominators. Unfortunately, all of this Dominators business didn't stick with me. I got plenty of joy from watching these heroes train against Kara — of course, they were wholly outmatched — but the episode seemed like an hour-long excuse to rip into Barry for creating Flashpoint. Jax and Professor Stein reveal they found a message from Barry's future self, 40 years in the future, in which he apologizes for the unintended ripple effects of Flashpoint. Apparently, the changes Barry wrought are much worse than we've come to learn. Future Barry also warns his friends he isn't to be trusted. Kara has his back, but when Cisco conveniently comes across the recording, it only adds ammunition for his hatred.
Look, I get it. Barry's mistake wound up getting his brother killed. Nevertheless, Oliver and Barry had a good reason to hold off on telling everyone else since the group needed to be united and focused before their battle with the Dominators. Cisco's crusade against lying of any kind — even when it's for the greater good — feels a bit juvenile. On one hand, I am glad that Barry's mistakes aren't being brushed aside. But if this means Cisco will continue to be mopey and utterly focused on undermining Barry, The Flash needs to go back to the drawing board.
As much as it surprises me, I (sort of) agree with Oliver on the issue. "You made a mistake, Barry. It's part of the job," he says. Considering Oliver's penchant for lying, maybe he isn't the best person to hand out advice. Meanwhile, Barry sees that the future news story is no longer written by Iris West-Allen, which sends him into another tailspin. (Side note: Whatever happened to Gideon, the A.I. that Harrison Wells had in season one? Isn't it time we see Barry be more of a scientist?)
Speaking of Iris, I was worried she would be wholly absent from the crossover. Although Iris doesn't have much to do besides warn Wally against using his powers, Candice Patton does get the line reading of the night when she responds to his desire to help. "The hell you do!" she cautions. Despite its mostly disappointing entry into this crossover, The Flash leaves us with some intriguing threads about the shifting nature of this makeshift family. Will Cisco and Barry make amends anytime soon? If Wally is already faster than Barry was at the beginning, what can we expect of him next? Does Iris have a job or is being Barry's girlfriend a full-time gig? As fun as it was to see these heroes all in the same room, I'm eager to see The Flash go back to focusing on its world.