Season Five, Episode Eight — “Invasion!”
By Don Alsafi. All this week is “Invasion!”, the crossover story that’s uniting the characters from all four of the CW’s DC superhero shows. While Supergirl‘s Monday night contribution was more of a prologue, Tuesday night’s episode of The Flash kicked off this team-up in grand fashion, with an action-packed plot that delivered a real thrill in seeing all these colorful heroes coming together. The only real stumble was when half of the participating heroes found themselves under mind-control by the crossover’s marquee alien horde, only to then attack the other half for a full ten minutes; it’s a sci-fi cliché, and it’s boring. Would Arrow, I wonder, lean on a similarly cheap plot device?
The answer seemed worryingly clear when, sixty seconds into Arrow, we were greeted with another tired SF trope – the heroes, the ones nabbed by the end of Tuesday night anyway, were found hooked to alien pods, asleep in what we later found to be a shared dream.
Surprisingly, while The Flash’s mind-control shtick had served only as an excuse to get superheroes to fight each other – with no deeper relevance or meaning than a (literally!) mindless slugfest – this particular narrative device was used to surprising effect, not only by putting its characters through the emotional wringer, but also in shining a light on what makes them who they are. Shockingly, what could have been an irrelevant and time-wasting “It was all a dream!” trope wound up becoming thematically rich and full of character.
This hour of television, much like the dream itself, gets its power from just how much history it’s trading in. From the first scene recreating the opening shot of Arrow‘s very first episode, to the reappearance of Laurel Lance, to the Hōzen arrowhead from Lian Yu, this is an illusion whose seductive power comes from reminding Ollie of everything he’s lost over the past several years, then giving him a world in which he can have it all back — living parents included. It’s a choice that was slyly foreshadowed the night before, on The Flash, when Oliver told Barry, “Do you not think that I wouldn’t give anything to go back and to make things different?”
Add to that the fact that he and Sara Lance are both still feeling the loss of Laurel, killed by Damien Darhk last season. (In fact, the current season of Legends of Tomorrow began with Sara trying to undo Laurel’s death by straight up murdering Darhk decades in the past.) The question that Oliver, and Sara, and Thea are all forced to grapple with is this: In the face of unbearable loss, would you choose to lose yourself in the comfort of an illusion? What if it were a particularly convincing one?
All that said, you do have to wonder if viewers who tuned in to this week’s episode solely for the crossover felt a bit of bait-and-switch, as the “alien invasion” plot was only progressed to the slightest degree, and were the elements that seemed the least satisfying. Well, of course they were! After all, this wasn’t just the middle part of a crossover story – it was also Arrow‘s 100th episode.
“My whole life, I’ve waited to see a sign of intelligent life. Now that I’m seeing it, they’re not intelligent at all. They’re just mean!” – Curtis.
“This is exactly twice as many spaceships I ever thought I’d be on.” – Thea.
“Last night, somebody reminded me that I have everything. And I don’t want to give it up.” – Ollie. Right before he does.
BEST MOMENT: Last year, the usually stellar Supergirl tried its hand at adapting the acclaimed Alan
Moore story “For the Man Who Has Everything”, which revolves around a similar narrative conceit… but sadly fell flat in the execution. Perhaps it was missing the emotional climax found in this episode, when Oliver – and later Thea – nearly give in to the illusion, so badly do they ache to believe that their loved ones have been restored, and that those losses were not so final.
EPISODE’S MVP: Ollie – unsurprising for a story so fully centered on all the hardships and losses he’s gone through since his story began, and the momentary happiness (even if illusory) he had to sacrifice in order to make things right.
– Okay, so what about the crossover parts? Bizarrely, the scenes that take place back in the real world show The Flash, Supergirl and the remaining members of Team Arrow trying to… recover a piece of stolen tech. (It’s not even alien tech.) The interruption of the main story by something as uninspired as yet another “criminal of the week” only adds to the feeling that the main plot of “Invasion!” was just spinning its wheels on Wednesday night.
– Oh, and upon waking from their alien sleep pods, they shoot a sci-fi gun into a room full of Dominators, jump into an escape pod, and get picked up by the Legends’ timeship. Seriously, how weird is it that the chapter of this crossover that’s on Arrow – the most grounded and earthbound of the DC/CW shows – is the one that has our heroes BREAK OUT OF AN ALIEN SPACESHIP. IN SPACE.
– Speaking of weird choices: The characters nabbed just before the Arrow chapter and put into these dream pods were Ollie, Diggle, Thea, Sara Lance and… Ray Palmer? Ray doesn’t even show up until 15 minutes into it, and in such a Queen-centric storyline has literally nothing to do.
– In a cute bit of meta-commentary, the memory flashes that Ollie keeps getting throughout? If you look close, they’re punctuated by an old-school “channel zapping” effect.
– Guest-stars galore included Momma & Poppa Queen, John Barrowman’s Malcolm Merlyn, and Damien Dahrk – yet Season One regular Tommy Merlyn was absent. That probably indicates the fan theory of a resurrected Tommy being the true identity of this season’s Big Bad (Grant Morrison creation Prometheus) as unlikely.
7.5 out of 10
NEXT ON ‘HEROES V. ALIENS’: “Invasion!” on ‘Legends of Tomorrow’