Features

After Crisis on Infinite Earths, Will the Arrowverse Ever Make Sense Again?

Fallout from this year's crossover has left the franchise in a more confused state than ever.
  • Jon Cryer as Lex Luthor in Supergirl (The CW).
    Jon Cryer as Lex Luthor in Supergirl (The CW).

    Even by the most charitable of standards, the multiple series that comprise The CW's Arrowverse have all fallen victim to writing and plotting that sometimes make no sense. As frustrating as it may be, this problem is nothing new, and fans of the shows (especially of veterans Arrow and The Flash) have learned to either put up with it or give up watching altogether. This season's Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover, however, feels like it was almost willfully designed to throw all of the shows out of whack and make a mess of the storylines they'd been developing.

    Before the final two episodes of Crisis aired, we asked whether the event would really have any long-term consequences for the six Arrowverse series. At that moment, signs pointed toward the whole thing resetting and sending the characters back to their individual shows like nothing ever happened. Well, that's not exactly how it turned out. In fact, Crisis made one pretty momentous change that, theoretically, ought to have a profound impact on all six shows. Unfortunately, in their first episodes back from the event, the series have struggled to deal with this in contradictory ways. Some tried to face it head-on, while others basically chose to ignore it.

    As it wrapped up, Crisis on Infinite Earths followed the original comic book storyline in broad strokes by collapsing the entire DC multiverse into a single universe and a single Earth (now called "Earth-Prime") where all the characters now live together. Only the main heroes and selected friends (and enemies) have retained memories that anything ever changed, while the majority of the world has no idea that a multiverse ever existed.

    The Crisis crossover really could have explained this better. The climax in Episode 4, where most of the multiverse destruction and unified universe rebuilding happened, was virtually incoherent in its storytelling, and the resolution in Episode 5 flat-out contradicted everything we'd just been told by revealing that, in fact, a multiverse does still exist. A sneak peak appearance for upcoming spinoff Stargirl was plainly stated to take place on Earth-2, while glimpses of other DC television properties such as Titans, Swamp Thing (both on the DC Universe streaming platform), and the currently in-development Green Lantern series for HBO Max, also exist in their own universes. All of this begs the question why the Arrowverse needed to destroy its multiverse at all. What is the point of all this, anyway?

    Five of the Arrowverse shows returned to the air this past week. The Flash is taking a break until February 4, so we won't know how that series deals with the post-Crisis universe until then. As for the others, let's look at how they handled it in the order in which they aired.

    Batwoman

    The new Batwoman episode opens with references to Oliver Queen's death, but the show always existed on the same Earth as Arrow, so that could have happened anyway. Kate Kane then explains some of the details of the multiverse and Crisis to her sidekick, Luke. Other than the brief acknowledgement that something important happened, this doesn't affect the rest of the episode too significantly. In her Batwoman persona, Kate later gives an interview to CatCo Magazine with a byline from Kara Danvers, who previously lived on Earth-38. Beyond those trifling details, the show otherwise gets back to business, picking up its old storylines where they left off.

    However, the episode ends with a wacky plot twist in which a seemingly not-evil doppelganger of Kate's sister Beth (a.k.a. Alice) arrives in town claiming to be back from living abroad, with no knowledge of her kidnapping as a child or turn to villainy. This suggests some multiverse fallout, especially given its similarities to what happens in…

    Supergirl

    Of the five shows that have returned so far, Supergirl has the most overt changes directly resulting from Crisis. During the crossover, evil mastermind Lex Luthor (Jon Cryer) used the Book of Destiny to rewrite reality, making the world believe that he's both a benevolent philanthropist and the head of the D.E.O. Naturally, Kara bristles with indignation at having to work for one of her greatest foes. Only a few of her friends, including Alex and Brainy, get their memories back and know the truth about Lex. Of course, Lex himself remembers everything. So do his morally conflicted sister, Lena (Katie McGrath), and their scheming mother, Lillian (Brenda Strong).

    Putting Lex in charge of the D.E.O. seriously upends a lot of the dynamics of the show and will likely drive the plot for the remainder of this season. On top of that, the episode finds multiple doppelgangers of Brainy (one female, played by actor Jesse Rath's sister, Meaghan Rath) converging on Earth-Prime after their own Earths are destroyed in the Crisis. That particular plot gets resolved before the end of the hour, but it helps show that Supergirl is, at least thus far, the Arrowverse series most committed to exploring the repercussions of Crisis.

    Black Lightning

    In numerous respects, Black Lightning ought to be the most affected by the move to Earth-Prime. Previously residing in its own universe, where Freeland was the main source of meta-humans on Earth, much of the show's premise was driven by Jefferson Pierce and his family being the only heroes capable of protecting their city. Now that they live in the same world as other superheroes like the Flash and Supergirl (and Superman too), how can the series justify those characters allowing a military occupation on American soil by the A.S.A. or an invasion from the nation of Markovia without offering a hand to help?

    For that matter, why would the Markovians need to focus all of their efforts on stealing meta-humans from Freeland when metas now abound in other cities, and the planet is also populated with millions of alien refugees equally as powerful or more so? And why does the A.S.A. even still exist as a government agency when A.R.G.U.S. serves essentially the same purpose? Is the President we saw at the end of Crisis eulogizing Oliver Queen as the savior of Earth the same President who authorized the A.S.A. to quarantine Freeland under false pretenses and conduct illegal experiments on innocent children?

    Rather than address questions like these, the first post-Crisis episode of Black Lightning almost immediately brushes them all aside. Although Jefferson briefly tells his friend and mentor Gambi (James Remar) about his experiences saving the multiverse, the conversation hilariously ends with Gambi recommending that they not speak of it again or tell anyone else about it, for fear of creating too much confusion. The show then continues on exactly where everything was before the Crisis happened.

    Arrow

    Considering that its main character died (twice!) during the Crisis, Arrow obviously can't ignore such an important development during the show's final two episodes. Yet, somehow, it sort-of finds a way to do exactly that. The penultimate episode of the series jumps the narrative forward to the year 2040 in order to serve as a backdoor pilot for a planned spinoff centered around the trio of Oliver's daughter Mia (Katherine McNamara), Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy), and Dinah Drake (Juliana Harkavy).

    Oliver's death is mentioned numerous times in the episode, but as something that happened in the distant past. However, his sacrifice changed the future of Star City, which is now a peaceful utopia with no recorded crime in decades. Although Laurel and Dinah appear in the future seemingly unaged and with all of their memories intact, Mia (who was from a darker version of 2040 originally before traveling back in time to meet her father) lives as a flighty socialite, unaware of her past as the successor Green Arrow until Laurel restores her memories. Of course, it turns out that crime actually is still afoot in Star City, and malevolent forces have an interest in returning the city to its pre-Crisis state.

    For a backdoor pilot, the Green Arrow & the Canaries episode is a pretty unexciting affair on the whole. The plot isn't terribly interesting, the leads aren't especially compelling, and the depiction of the year 2040 is almost totally bereft of ideas for how to appear futuristic. Every car on the street is a 2020 model, and neither fashion nor technology appear to have advanced much over two decades. Other than on-screen text and the occasional line of dialogue insisting that the story takes place in the future, the episode gives us next to nothing to convince us of such.

    Legends of Tomorrow

    As the most comedy-focused series in the Arrowverse, Legends of Tomorrow unsurprisingly treats the entire Crisis escapade as just another goofy lark. Many jokes are made about which characters did or did not participate in the "crossover," but then the team sets off on a new adventure to 1917 Russia, where mad monk Rasputin has mysteriously risen from the dead.

    This plot is only indirectly related to the Crisis, in that it's partially driven by John Constantine's meddling around in Hell while searching for Oliver's soul. Even to that end, the Legends team messes around with the historical timeline so much in general that world-altering changes are pretty much par for the course on any typical episode, and the Crisis on Infinite Earths barely registers as a footnote.

    What's Next?

    As mentioned, we have yet to see what The Flash will look like after Crisis. Much of the show's plotting during the first half of this season centered around Barry Allen's belief that he was fated to die in the event. Since that didn't happen, the series will need to find a new direction for the remainder of the season.

    Arrow has just one more episode to wrap up its eight-year run, and will presumably return to 2020 to more directly contend with Oliver's death and his legacy, as well as the aftermath of Crisis.

    How much effort will the rest of the shows expend to make some sense of the new post-Crisis world? At this point, only Supergirl even seems to be trying. That's problematic for a franchise that strives to be tightly interconnected. Unfortunately, from past experience, narrative coherency isn't always a strength for any of these shows.

    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.

    TOPICS: Arrow, The CW, Batwoman, Black Lightning, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, The Flash, Supergirl, Brenda Strong, James Remar, Jesse Rath, Jon Cryer, Juliana Harkavy, Katherine McNamara, Katie Cassidy, Katie McGrath, Meaghan Rath