Friday, 2 December 2016

Review - 'The Flash', S03E08 - 'Invasion!'

Despite being advertised as such, the most recent episode of Supergirl really wasn't the beginning of the major cross-over event that we had been promised – and, it wasn't really intended to be. For clear proof of that, you probably don't need to look much further than the fact that that episode's only real point of connection to the cross-over (the scene in which Barry and Cisco travel between dimensions, to recruit Supergirl), ended up being replayed, in its entirety, in this episode of The Flash.

I suppose you could make an argument for false advertising if you really wanted to – but, in the end, I don't think it's all that big an issue. It's a three-part cross-over, featuring the characters from all four shows, rather than a four-part one – and, it begins here.

It doesn't waste any time, either. Opening with a very entertaining sequence which sets the Flash and Green Arrow against all of their allies, for reasons yet to be revealed, the episode then promptly pulls the fairly standard trick of jumping backward in time to reveal how we reached this point. Here, we learn that Wally West's training in the use of his new abilities seems to be progressing well – although, Iris is fairly adamant that this particular piece of information should be kept from Wally. Also, Cisco is still angry with Barry, after learning of Barry's indirect role in his brother's death – and, he is taking any opportunity that presents itself to make his displeasure known. H. R. Wells, meanwhile, is determined to go ahead with his plan to turn Star Labs into a museum – though, naturally, he is having a tough time selling the idea to the rest of the team.

So, from that fantastic opening scene, we shift to what seems to be a perfectly ordinary episode of The Flash – though, of course, that doesn't last long. Learning of a rapidly incoming meteor, Barry heads out to investigate, only to find himself confronted by what appears to be an alien ship – and, the rampaging horde of monstrous creatures it carries. This reveal also gave us what would have to be one of the funniest moments of the episode – as Barry, despite his own super-powers, was left so stunned by the sight that he could do little more than stare, helplessly, as the alien creatures rushed off.

From there, though, it is back to business. From Lyla, Barry learns that this strange new threat, an alien race dubbed the Dominators, have visited Earth before – and, much like on that previous visit, their current intent is likely to be far from peaceful. From there, Barry resolves to gather together a team that can help him take on this new threat – a team which, of course, consists of characters drawn from all of the CW's other DC related programs.

After the somewhat disappointing lack of any real cross-over elements in the last episode of Supergirl, it was actually genuinely impressive to see how quickly everything began to come together, here – with the alien threat being introduced, and the team of heroes gathered, almost by the end of the episode's first act. It was fairly obvious that no one involved in the making of this episode wanted to waste time with any sort of gradual build-up – and, as a result, we were given much more time to simply enjoy having all of these characters on-screen together.

There was definitely a lot to enjoy about this early sequence, too. There's Supergirl's first meeting with the rest of the cast, after being brought over from her own Earth by Barry and Cisco – with the sheer joy she seems to take in getting to meet all of these characters feeling very genuine. There was, also, Barry's hilariously awkward efforts to play the part of 'team leader', after being nominated for the role by Oliver – along with the incredibly unsubtle prodding he received from Oliver.

Then, of course, there was the whole training exercise sequence – a much too brief scene in which the entire cast tries, and fails, to take on Supergirl. Honestly, I found myself wishing that this scene could have been much longer – I would definitely have enjoyed, for example, the opportunity to see everyone take a turn against Supergirl, one-on-one. I just think that would have made for a fun sequence.

Of course, this may have been the first (proper) part of the epic Invasion! cross-over – but, it was also an episode of The Flash. And, as such, it felt appropriate that this episode would also devote some time to continuing its various plot-threads. 'Flashpoint' actually became a fairly significant sticking-point for much of the episode, after Cisco took it upon himself to force Barry to reveal everything. Honestly, as someone who hasn't been overly impressed with the season's treatment of 'Flashpoint', back at the beginning of the season, it has been very interesting to see it become the catalyst for so much drama, recently – with all of that seeming to come to a head, here.

While it could be argued that Barry deserved the somewhat harsh treatment that was directed at him, throughout this episode, I don't really think that the same could be said for Wally West. Honestly, the oddly dismissive treatment that Wally was forced to endure from those around him actually started to genuinely bother me, by the end of the episode. Iris and Joe's almost outright refusal to even acknowledge that Wally's new abilities might make him an asset, or even to consider the possibility that he should be able to make his own decisions (with Iris even going as far as pressuring the rest of the team into lying to Wally about the progress of his training), was played to such a heavy-handed extreme that it began to feel as though the writer's were deliberately setting him up for failure – an impression which seemed confirmed later, when Wally's one, very brief, moment of heroism ended with him being injured, almost immediately. I have no idea what the long-term plan for Wally West is, of course – but, that entire sub-plot definitely proved to be an unfortunate weak-point in an, otherwise, very entertaining episode.

Of course, the big draw of the episode was the confrontation that we were able to briefly glimpse, in the opening scene. With Oliver and Barry forced to contend with a team who had managed to fall under the influence of Dominator mind-control, the action-sequence that results is really everything a fan could possibly want from such a large-scale cross-over. It is a sequence which is made up of so many great little moments – with the scenes of a mind-controlled Supergirl chasing the Flash through the streets of the city easily standing out as one of the best moments to feature in any of the CW's DC series. The entire set-up also, cleverly, allowed for a major conflict to be added to the episode, while still keeping the Dominators, themselves, in the background, for now.

The first episode of this large-scale cross-over event managed to get things off to a very impressive start. It was an episode that managed to balance to pure joy of seeing all of these characters on-screen together with a surprising amount of genuine drama – and, it also all came to an end with a truly fantastic action sequence. Sure, you could probably argue that the episode didn't actually do very much to introduce the nature of the threat that this wildly varied team of heroes are set to face (since we don't actually see very much of the Dominators) – but, for now, I don't think that actually matters.

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