Warning: The following review will be a spoiler-filled discussion of not just Monday night’s episode of Arrow but all three parts of the “Elseworlds” crossover.
“Elseworlds” is the fifth Arrowverse crossover, an annual tradition that first began during the third season of Arrow and the first season of The Flash in 2014 with the two heroes coming together for an epic two-parter titled “Flash vs. Arrow” and “The Brave and the Bold.” Every year, the writers fill these crossovers with more characters, special effects, and comic-book easter eggs, and that’s certainly the case with “Elseworlds,” especially when our heroes visit Clark and Lois on their farm in Smallville or infiltrate Arhkam Asylum after meeting Kate Kane in Gotham. But despite how much superficial fun these three episodes have (and there’s so many fun moments, from Oliver and Barry’s reactions to using each other’s powers to Clark and Lois’s bantering back and forth), this year’s crossover fails to capture the heart and depth of “Crisis on Earth-X” or even 2016’s “Invasion!” and a major reason for that is its complete disregard for the character growth of Oliver Queen.
Throughout all three hours of “Elseworlds,” particularly “Part 1,” the Flash episode, the writers paint Oliver Queen as a dark, vengeful, murderous vigilante, who is only able to take down criminals because of how angry and broken he is. It’s as if all of the episodes’ writers, including Marc Guggenheim, who used to be the co-showrunner of Arrow, haven’t watched the series since Season 1. By depicting Oliver in this way, they neglect all of his development over the past six years, the relationships he has formed with people like Felicity, Diggle, and even the Newbies, the new roles he has taken on, including father, husband, and mayor, and, most importantly, the demons he has recognized and reconciled with, particularly his ease and almost enjoyment of killing (if you want to see that arc, watch “Kapiushon” and the episodes that immediately follow that hour).
No, Oliver’s not as happy-go-lucky as Barry or as optimistic as Kara, and he shouldn’t be. Oliver Queen has always been an intense, focused, and serious individual. However, none of those qualities are what are being discussed throughout “Elseworlds”; instead, the crossover essentially tries to tell us that Oliver is not a hero because he’s more damaged than his peers. You know what, try spending nearly five years on an island in the middle of nowhere and seven months in prison while also seeing your mother, best friend, and former girlfriend die right in front of you, in ways that make you believe that their deaths were all your fault. Try being a father to a motherless son, a mayor within a government that’s so corrupt that you can’t trust a single political ally, and a hero to a city that would rather arrest you than celebrate you (let alone name a goddamn coffee after you). Try being the leader of a team whose members undermine you and betray you, a best friend to a man who has recently let his jealousy and selfishness cause a rift between the two of you, and a husband to a wife who is heading down a dark path that frightens you. Yeah, try dealing with all of that and tell me that you wouldn’t be a little damaged, a little broken, a little more inclined to retreating into the darkness instead of stepping into the light.
But personally, I’m happy all of that has happened to Oliver. I’m happy he has dealt with the kind of pain and suffering and struggle that would break lesser individuals because it has shaped him into the hero that he is today. A hero that values his friends so much that he’s willing to make a deal with a cosmic being, knowing full well that saving their lives will more than likely cost him his. A hero who can admit his mistakes to his wife, who can acknowledge that, even in the face of uncertainty, his love for her will always be a constant. A hero who steps up to make the tough choices and never accepts defeat, even if the odds are stacked against him. A hero who doesn’t let how other people perceive, hell even how he mostly perceives himself, define him. Because make no mistake, even though he’s not super-speeding around the world in order to slow down time, it’s Oliver Queen’s actions that save the day in “Elseworlds”; it’s his confrontation with The Monitor that not only sets up next year’s “Crisis on Infinite Earths” crossover but, more importantly, illustrates the type of person he has evolved into, much more than any words from Iris, Barry, Kara, or even Oliver himself could.
The Oliver from Arrow Season 1, the one that the writers try to force down our throats during this crossover for plot-over-character reasons, would have never gone to see The Monitor to talk things out. Like how Barry deals with the robbers in Gotham, the old Oliver would have tried to use his brute force and escalated the situation to the point where nothing could be resolved. However, this older, wiser, and more mature Oliver understands that violence does not always provide the answer and that heroism is almost never black or white but mostly exists in shades of gray. He sees the bigger picture Because the characters in the Arrowverse may want to call Oliver mean, rude, and angry, and that’s fine. They don’t have to like him. But they have to respect him for his strategy, tenacity, and, most importantly, his selflessness. That selflessness is born out the love he has for the people he cares about most, William, Felicity, and Diggle; it comes from their hope, compassion, and determination, their choice to see the best in Oliver, their choice to love him and inspire him to be the best man that he can be.
This selflessness comes from a love that, as Oliver tells Felicity during one of the crossover’s very best scenes, is “too small a word” to truly describe how Oliver feels about his family, just like the word “hero” is not sufficient enough to describe the rich, complex, and constantly evolving character that is Arrow‘s Oliver Queen. Unlike the “Elseworlds” writers, I won’t forget everything that makes Oliver so entertaining, so frustrating, so powerful, and so special anytime soon.
- Worst moment in the crossover: Oliver and Barry putting innocent lives in danger to essentially test Deegan’s Superman. Sure, they trusted that he would choose to save the civilians instead of fighting them, but I still don’t believe that either of these two superheroes would actually risk that. It rang so false to me that it actually distracted for the first 10 minutes or so of “Part 3.”
- I was so happy to see Tyler Hoechlin back as Clark during this crossover. His version of Superman is my favorite incarnation since Tom Welling’s portrayal on Smallville. And speaking of Smallville, my favorite moment from the entire crossover may have been when Remy Zero’s “Save Me” kicked in as we jumped to the Kent Farm on Earth-38 (the same exact Kent Farm that was used for Welling’s Clark on The WB/CW’s Smallville).
- Elizabeth Tulloch’s Lois was a perfect match for Hoechlin’s Clark, and I loved all of their little moments together, especially how the “You’ll catch me” line from the first episode comes into play during the final hour. The two of them had such terrific chemistry, and while it’s great to see Clark and Lois getting engaged and preparing to have a child, I am really bummed that it’s going to be a long while before they pop up on any of the CW shows again.
- Last year’s crossover packed more of an emotional punch in every way, from dealing with romantic relationships to familial bonds as well, but I still found Kara and Alex’s “pinky swear” moment during “Part 3” to be quite effective. It definitely worked better than the “Let’s learn from each other” scenes between Oliver and Barry.
- Ruby Rose finally made her debut as Kate Kane aka Batwoman, and she was perfectly fine. Honestly, Rose reminded me a lot of Stephen Amell when he first started off on Arrow: a little too stiff and flat and rehearsed, especially in the scenes where she’s not showing off her physicality, suited up and fighting crime. But I’m willing to give her the chance to grow as an actress just as Amell evolved into a more accomplished actor.
- Speaking of Stephen Amell, he’s the MVP of this year’s crossover for his comedic chops alone (He perfectly plays Oliver’s frustrations with Barry and Kara, and I loved his performance when Oliver first meets Clark and debates Batman’s existence with Barry). However, he also kills it in the more pivotal dramatic moments, such as Oliver’s conversation with Felicity during the second hour of the crossover and his discussion with The Monitor near the end of the third episode.
- “Oh Barry. What have you done this time?”
- “Guess you forgot that you can’t get drunk.” “This day cannot get any worse.”
- “Are you puffing out your chest?” “Yes.”
- “It’s a shame I have to go because I think we’d make a good team.” “World’s finest.”
- “Your sister is a very lucky woman.” “I’m a lucky sister.”
- “One thing will never change: how I feel about you. Love is too small a word.”
Arrow returns on Monday, January 21, at 8 pm on The CW. Comment below with what you thought of the “Elseworlds” crossover.
[Photo credit: Jack Rowand/The CW]