The CW’s annual Arrowverse crossover episodes are always a bit of a tough needle to thread. The show’s writers need to appeal to the existing fanbase of each show, continuing—at least a little—some ongoing stories while furthering the three-part narrative, all while welcoming viewers loyal to the other shows in such a way that they won’t be totally lost. Oh, and the episodes have to live up to months and months of hype. And one more thing, at least this time around: They have to lay the framework for a whole new Arrowverse series. All that, and Batwoman too. So, ah, no pressure, Arrow.
Luckily, the second part of “Elseworlds” is, like the first, a darned good time. It’s not as consistent as the installment that arrived courtesy of The Flash, and some of the immediate delight of seeing Oliver and Barry swap lives (and abilities) is gone, but there’s still plenty to enjoy here. And if nothing else, those involved seem to be very much enjoying themselves, and that energy seems to percolate throughout, infusing nearly every scene with a sense of playfulness and pleasure that makes even the more lackluster elements of this hour worth your time.
Oddly, the few scenes that can’t be saved purely through Grant Gustin, Melissa Benoist, and (especially and unexpectedly) Stephen Amell’s obvious enjoyment of the material are the scenes that link most directly to Arrow—the show that we are, in theory, supposed to be watching here. It’s all the more strange because this season of Arrow has been such an improvement over the last, course-correcting some of the inexplicable character developments of the previous season with ease. But the dark-Felicity stuff doesn’t work any better when you throw body-swapping into it, and while the impulse to connect Felicity’s “I’m a different person now” story to “Elseworlds” is perhaps understandable, it’s the one element that feels wholly out of place here. Everywhere else, it’s bickering and super-speed struggles, easter eggs and Kate Kane (Ruby Rose, additional alliteration); when the Felicity drama kicks into gear, things suddenly become a lot more complicated and a lot less interesting, all at once.
(That said, the idea that Felicity would read too much into the fact that she didn’t intuit that Barry wasn’t Oliver absolutely scans. Not fun, but that’s a very human response from someone in a difficult situation.)
But outside those few scenes, even the moments that fall a little flat—most of them “hey, look, an easter egg” moments of the “Oh, look, convenient Shakespeare bust” variety—can’t really detract from the whole. It’s just a really good time, pure and simple. Sure, our journey into Kate Kane’s Batcave may include a comically long hard stare; sure, we may spend an almost unforgivably long amount of time teasing classic rogues we never so much as glimpse; and sure, to call the rules of this non-Quantum Leap, non-Freaky Friday swap inconsistent would be dramatically understating things. But it’s entertaining and engaging throughout, all the same, with a fun take on the show’s opening titles, a few solid set pieces, one fun-as-hell asylum break-in, a promising introduction to Batwoman, and at least one genuinely unexpected cameo (from John Barrowman, who exited the Arrowverse, seemingly permanently, at the end of Arrow’s fifth season).
Still, what most recommends “Elseworlds” in this second outing is, as stated above, the fun they all seem to be having. That fun extends to Jeremy Davies, who chews the scenery like the best of the Arrowverse villains. It seems a bit odd to bring in an actor of Davies’ caliber, just to have him go full weird without doing much else, but then again, “Part Three” looms, so who knows where he’s headed. In this installment at least, he’s mostly here to make big gestures, stare with very big eyes, and be twitchy. The stuff of legend? No. Watchable? Intensely.
That last works pretty well as a summation of the second chapter of “Elseworlds” in general. It might not be top-tier stuff, but is it watchable? Intensely. The supporting casts of The Flash and Arrow combine as well as they ever do, the trip to Gotham is pretty much exactly what you’d expect, for better and for worse, and the story clicks along nicely, ending with a very promising cliffhanger. An all-time great episode of Arrow it ain’t, but come on. Oliver Queen can’t get a handle on his super-speed, the Green Arrow and The Flash have a hallucination-fueled fight, and Kara makes a new friend. Are you not entertained?
- Kara’s cool just using her X-Ray vision like that?
- Wait… Barry and Oliver hallucinate each other’s fears, even though they have their own memories?
- Barry’s concerned “They are?!” in response to Felicity mentioning the “fraught” state of the Queen-Smoak union was precious and wonderful and perfect. Grant Gustin is much better at, as Oliver puts it, “sunshine and rainbows” than doom and gloom.
- “I would never compare myself to a total badass like Batman.” [Slow head-turn to Oliver, smug grin.]
- “Yep, you are definitely not Oliver Queen.”
- Everyone just collectively assumed that letting whoever was trying to breach through to enter was a good idea? After the experiences these people have had with nefarious types from alternate earths? Have they forgotten the freakin’ Nazis?
- I feel like I should be glad that Kirk Acevedo has a chance to play a version of Ricardo Diaz that isn’t the regular Ricardo Diaz, but as good as Acevedo is, that character—any version of him—is well and truly past his expiration date.
- Cobblepot, Isley, Karlo, Nigma, Guggenheim: Penguin, Poison Ivy, Clayface, Riddler, Marc Guggenheim. See also: Nora Fries/Freeze, Jonathon Crane (Scarecrow).
- TAMVP: Stephen Amell, hands down. Arrow should let him play the curmudgeonly straight man more often. Every time he’s allowed to be funny, the energy in the show skyrockets.
- Salmon ladder watch: I killed this feature of Arrow reviews awhile back, and there’s no salmon ladder here, but there was salmon ladder in the first “Elseworlds”! Come back, salmon ladder, come back!
- See you for Arrow’s finale in the spring (unless something huge happens before then).