Encompassing characters from all six of the DC superhero shows airing on The CW network, Crisis on Infinite Earths is the biggest crossover event in the Arrowverse franchise to date. To stoke the hype, it also presents the biggest stakes any of these heroes have yet faced. The first three episodes, which aired back in December, put not just the Earth in peril, but also (per the title) infinite versions of the Earth — and other planets — from across the multiverse.
As the first half ended on a month-long cliffhanger, things didn't seem to be going too well, but the looming question is whether anything that happens in Crisis will actually carry through to have ramifications for the six series involved. Or, as often happens with these big ratings stunts, will it end with the threat averted and everything restored back to its original state, allowing the characters can return to their own shows and pick up right where they left off like nothing happened? Unfortunately, evidence points to the latter.
Note: This article contains spoilers for the first three episodes of Crisis on Infinite Earths. If you haven't watched them yet, please do. Anything that may happen in the final two episodes is pure speculation at the time of this writing.
Parts 1-3 of Crisis on Infinite Earths aired from December 8-10, crossing through episodes of Supergirl, Batwoman, and The Flash. The event concludes tonight with back-to-back episodes of Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow. Black Lightning was also brought into the fold with the rest of the Arrowverse as that character discovered the multiverse and met the other heroes for the first time.
The crisis of the title kicked off when the cosmic being known as The Monitor (LaMonica Garrett) assembled the characters and warned that his evil counterpart, The Anti-Monitor, planned to eradicate every world across every dimension in the entire multiverse. By the cliffhanger that ended Part 3, that's exactly what happened. The Anti-Monitor's powerful energy wave swept through every universe, wiping out world after world until finishing up with the destruction of Earth-1. Everything, everywhere, is gone. Only the collected heroes, along with The Monitor and a few hangers-on (including villain Lex Luthor, played by Jon Cryer) survived by escaping on the Waverider and hiding out at Vanishing Point, a sanctuary formerly ruled by the Time Masters that exists outside the multiverse, beyond normal conceptions of space and time.
All things considered, that's kind of a downer. From a narrative standpoint, the problem is that these events can't possibly stick. At least, not to any meaningful degree.
Crisis on Infinite Earths is the sixth of the Arrowverse's annual crossovers. Typically, these events function as sideshow distractions. The main plot of each involved series is put on hold so the characters can come together to deal with a one-off emergency, and once that's done, everything returns to normal and resumes where it left off. Viewers not interested in the crossover could easily skip the affected episodes and not miss anything too important. Only 2017's Crisis on Earth-X, arguably the best (and certainly the most fun) of these crossovers, had any long-term consequences, in that it killed off Prof. Stein (Victor Garber) from Legends of Tomorrow. That said, we know that Garber was planning to leave the show in any case, so his character's death would have happened regardless.
Although Arrow is scheduled to wrap up its eight-year run shortly after Crisis on Infinite Earths concludes, Legends of Tomorrow is just on the cusp of starting a brand new season. Supergirl, Batwoman, The Flash, and Black Lightning are all currently in the middle of unresolved storylines. Further, all of these series (other than Arrow) have already been officially renewed for next season, and the new spinoff Stargirl will debut later this year. Are we really expected to believe that all of these characters' homeworlds have been permanently destroyed, and that future episodes of at least six interconnected series will all take place on the same small, cramped spaceship wandering an infinite void?
Of course not. The idea is absurd, even by the high standard for absurdity that these shows usually traffic in. Obviously the surviving heroes will use some combination of magic, time travel, and/or pseudoscience nonsense to defeat the Anti-Monitor, undo his damage, and return home for supper before the end of the final Crisis episode — after which, the characters can continue on with their regularly scheduled storylines. Supergirl has some ancient elemental gods to defeat; Batwoman still has an evil sister to hunt down; and Black Lightning needs to continue fighting the good fight against Agent Odell and the A.S.A. These things certainly won't all get dropped without resolution.
Only Arrow and The Flash might possibly have to deal with lasting fallout. The Monitor was heavily involved with both shows this season to pave the way for Crisis. As mentioned, Arrow will air its final episode imminently. Oliver Queen's death and immediate resurrection in Crisis will likely play some part in that ending. Meanwhile, Barry Allen's belief that he's destined to die in Crisis has driven much of the storyline for The Flash this season. The show will need to deal with that and find a new direction for the back half of the season. Even so, no fan can possibly believe that Barry will really die here. What would The Flash be without the Flash? After Crisis, he'll get right back to business battling meta-human villains as he always has.
Crisis on Infinite Earths is based on a comic book storyline first published in 1985-86. While none of the Arrowverse TV shows have ever been strictly faithful to their source material, it's not unreasonable to speculate that the television adaptation may follow the original story in at least a general sense. To that end, the purpose of the comic Crisis was to clean up the convoluted continuity of the DC multiverse and consolidate it into a single shared universe. Essentially, alternate dimension Earths were written out and important characters from them were moved to Earth-1 as if they'd always lived there.
If the Arrowverse were to follow this model, it would mean that Supergirl and Black Lightning would henceforth live on the same Earth as the Flash, Batwoman, and the Legends. In theory, this could make for easier or more frequent crossovers. Realistically, though, it probably wouldn't make much difference to any of the shows. Characters cross universes with ease frequently enough already that it hardly matters which Earth they live on. In other respects, Supergirl and Black Lightning could change setting to Earth-1 without most of their characters even noticing.
The Arrowverse's annual crossovers are usually a lot of fun and often highlights of each season. At the same time, they're also frequently irrelevant to the ongoing plotlines for any of the participating shows. The higher an event like Crisis on Infinite Earths raises the stakes for its heroes (the destruction of the entire multiverse!), the harder it is to take seriously. Locations like Central City, Star City, National City, Gotham, and Freeland can't be destroyed forever, or it would mean the end of the respective series set in those locations, and we already know that's not happening. The fact that, aside from Arrow, all of the franchise's shows are confirmed to continue effectively spoils the end of Crisis. The Earth must inevitably be restored and spared from destruction — or at least, one Earth must.
If that's the case, will Crisis on Infinite Earths ultimately amount to anything more than another amusing but inconsequential diversion? Perhaps future crossovers should consider setting more plausible expectations.
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Josh Zyber has written about TV, movies, and home theater for the past two decades. Most recently, he spent more than nine years managing a daily blog at High-Def Digest.