Legends of Tomorrow: 207 “Invasion!” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
It’s been a hell of a week for DC TV. While the prospect of a three/four night (delete according to preference) crossover between all of the CW’s superhero shows seemed like an overly ambitious undertaking to begin with, The Flash and Arrow’s instalments of Invasion! managed to thread a difficult needle, packing in plenty of crossover action to satisfy all the extra viewers tuning in (Arrow and Legends’ ratings doubled this week!) while working as satisfying and forward-moving episodes of the individual shows – in particular, Arrow managed to both commemorate 100 episodes and continue the crossover without breaking a sweat. It was up to Legends of Tomorrow, then, to bring it home with a strong end to ‘Heroes v Aliens’…
… And sure enough, it didn’t disappoint. Legends’ instalment of Invasion! might not have felt much like an episode of Legends of Tomorrow at all, putting its main emotional focus on characters from the other shows, but it’s an episode that nails the signature tone of this show – big, brash and operatic, with a heavy focus on thrilling spectacle and exaggerated peril. It’s perhaps the most outright enjoyable of the crossover episodes, swinging for the fences in a way the previous episodes couldn’t due to their need to keep setting things up, though it’s also perhaps the shakiest narratively, with some distinctly half-baked plotting on display as the episode scrambles towards its grand finale. In short, it’s exactly what you’d expect from a crossover episode of Legends – rough around the edges, but so utterly enjoyable and eager to please that it’s hard not to get swept away in the momentum of it all.
Invasion! wasn’t as character-centric as previous instalments, but it quickly landed upon a central theme that felt really appropriate for the nature of the crossover, which was the idea of ‘the new normal’, and the difficulty in maintaining a stable, consistent attitude in the midst of an increasingly crazy world where the rules are continuously torn up and redefined. In fact, that’s really been the central idea of the entire crossover, percolating through each of the three episodes in different ways, so it’s fitting that it’s a theme that surfaces most directly in the motivations of our overarching villains, the Dominators.
After two episodes of skulking about as little more than generic ‘little green men’ with abilities introduced according to the plot’s needs, Invasion! finally put a bit of meat on the bones of the invading species just as our heroes directly came into conflict with them. In an episode that mostly parks Legends’ ongoing themes and stories, it’s a neat bit of storytelling to have the heroes time travel back to the origins of the Dominators’ interest in Earth, bringing more credibility to the notion that they’re a persistent and expansive threat who will always keep on coming as well as introducing a fitting amount of scope for this expansive story, with a conspiracy that turns out to stretch back 60 years. The motivation and characterisation of the Dominators is simple – a blunt reaction to the proliferation of superheroes in recent years, but that simplicity serves the episode’s needs well, connecting to the theme of error and repentance that’s been equally important in these episodes.
There’s no greater error here than Barry Allen’s, and Invasion! brought his reckoning with the consequences of creating Flashpoint to a satisfying conclusion here. While Barry’s mistake acting as the straw that broke the camel’s back for the Dominators is a little hard to swallow on a logical level given all of the timeline-meddling that’s gone on in Flash and Legends, it works on a thematic and character level, and that’s ultimately more important. The heightened stakes of Barry’s failure, and the sheer significance of the self-sacrifice that’s seemingly needed to make things right, allows Invasion! to come to a place where Barry can finally, genuinely, repent for his mistakes. For all of the affecting pep talks that Barry’s had about not being a god in order to assuage his guilt, there needed to be a genuinely significant show of selflessness on his part to compensate for a pretty huge act of destructive selfishness, and Invasion! finds that show of selflessness with Barry’s decision to give up his life to save the Dominators. The scripting of this episode isn’t always consistent, but it hits all the right notes in affirming Barry’s innate goodness and desperation to make up for his mistakes – given that he simply chooses to sacrifice himself instantly without deliberation, the idea that he’s finally earned the right to move past his selfish actions is genuinely convincing. This key scene also speaks to this episode’s renewed focus on solidarity and teamwork as the heroes finally join up with nothing to divide them. It takes multiple people to remind Barry of the support structure that he has to back him up, not just including his closest friends who would always protect him anyway; there’s even old enemies like Mick chipping in, which really heightens the power of the moment as an affirmation of teamwork and collectivism above being a lone wolf.
Conversely, an exploration of the theme of the new normal that doesn’t feel so convincing is the small conflict between Oliver and Supergirl over his inability to accept her as an alien. Thematically, it’s watertight – it makes sense that a character who embodies the gritty and grounded side of this universe would be freaked out by the sudden appearance of aliens, let alone one he has to work with. Yet the scripting here is a bit wonky, and doesn’t introduce enough nuance into Oliver’s actions, making him seem oddly prejudiced and reactionary, especially given his enlightening experience in Arrow’s crossover episode. It’s self-evidently a plot device to save money on the special effects for Supergirl’s powers, and the episode doesn’t disguise that with understandable characterisation, making for a conflict that feels deeply contrived, and ends up leading to a distinct underuse of one of the crossover’s best characters.
In tandem with Barry’s journey of self-forgiveness, Cisco’s grudge against Barry for changing the timeline was also cleared up here (The Flash’s writers must be pleased at all the legwork that’s been done for them between episodes!). This was one of the shakier stories in The Flash’s crossover episode, but it improves here by circling back to the likeable and humble characterisation of Cisco that made him such a fan favourite in the first place. Indeed, the episode makes a lot of time for his geeky joy, alongside Felicity, at travelling through time, reminding us of the likeability that’s still innate in his character despite his outward anger. The basic character arc Cisco gets here is relatively satisfying, forcing him to see things from Barry’s point of view as he causes his own problems by changing time. The equivalence between Barry’s deliberate creation of Flashpoint and Cisco’s accidental snafu in freeing a Dominator and exacerbating the problem is a bit of a reach, but it does achieve the goal of illustrating the fragility of time in a way that makes sense for the overall story of the crossover. Ultimately, Barry and Cisco have to meet halfway to solve their dispute with Barry displaying true selflessness and Cisco understanding the ease of making huge mistakes with time, and the moment where Cisco calls Barry a ‘friend’ is, as a result, mostly satisfying, a result of real work done between them to understand each other’s viewpoint. It’s emblematic of the head over heart ethos of Invasion!, in which a lack of logical plausibility is compensated for with satisfying emotional breakthroughs, and that feels right for an episode that embraces the heightened comic-book storytelling style more than ever.
A plotline that does link up to the ongoing stories of Legends is Stein’s, in which he finally grapples with the consequences of his own meddling with time, which has created a daughter who appears like a stranger to him. The plotline does a lot with little screen-time, and while Stein’s shift from wishing to erase his daughter to embracing her is a little too pronounced to seem realistic on paper, Victor Garber’s committed performance helps to make these emotional changes convincing, underlining the emotional impact of this chaotic new situation for Stein and thus elevating the material above what the script suggests. Garber sells Stein’s quiet pride and awe at the ease in which he can see himself in his daughter, and it’s hard not to sympathise with his decision at the end to maintain this ‘aberration’ due to the value it adds to his life, satisfyingly adding further moral ambiguity to the debate from recent episodes of Legends about the validity of changing time when the consequences are wholly benevolent. It’s also well integrated into the overall crossover storyline, with Stein’s acceptance of his daughter directly linked to the viability of the team’s plans to thwart the Dominators as they’re creating a weapon together – a great improvement on last year’s crossovers is that the individual plotlines complement the crossover narrative now, rather than impeding it. I would have liked to see a bit more follow through on Stein’s emotional breakthrough early on, however, because the episode doesn’t actually find the time to show Stein developing affection for his daughter beyond the one tiny interaction needed for the plot. Though not to the same extent as The Flash, it’s perhaps true to say that, for all the strengths of Stein’s story, it doesn’t quite have enough screen-time to fully accomplish its intent.
Any good team-up between superheroes needs to end in an all-out battle between heroes and villains, and Invasion! certainly hit the mark in that respect. The rooftop fight between the collected heroes and the Dominators is a testament to the huge roster of famous DC faces that this universe has done justice to, and achieves an impressive level of spectacle on a TV budget as hordes of Dominators swarm in (the CGI of the aliens is a little weightless sometimes, reminding us that the actors were, in reality, fighting nothing at all, but that’s nitpicking). It’s also packed full of rewarding little pay-offs, like Supergirl swooping in to save the Green Arrow from falling off a building, or the awesome climatic visual of Firestorm transmuting the enormous metahuman bomb into a torrent of water that rains down on Central City, illustrating on the strong focus on individual characters’ strengths and their relationship with others throughout. While the other episodes experimented with different kinds of this idea, with The Flash taking on a battle of heroes while Arrow saw Team Arrow fight past villains with intense emotional significance to them, this was a gloriously traditional celebration of the characters that make up the casts of the four DC shows, placing emphasis on the joyful fun of seeing their powers in all their glory above all.
Yet for all the expansive bombast of that final fight as a dozen heroes all link up to stop the worldwide threat, Invasion! recognises that, at their core, these superhero stories are about the characters, and their ability to be the best heroes they can be. That’s why the choice to end not on the Legends speeding away into time, as one might expect, but instead on the simple, grounded visual of Oliver Queen and Barry Allen sharing beers in a bar, discussing their reasons for continuing their respective heroic crusades, works so well. It’s a reminder that Arrow, Flash, Legends and Supergirl, for all their tonal differences and fancy special effects, all ultimately aim to balance the expansive with the intimate, and all boil down to simple human ideas of family, friendship, heroism and selflessness. And for a crossover event meant to encapsulate a narrative world that seems extremely disparate on the surface, a recognition of those core similarities that run through each show was important. It shows how the DC shows have derived their success from recognising what makes superhero fiction so popular and universal as a genre, and simply applying that ethos to each story, creating shows that are sincere and entertaining in a way that does real justice to the source material while building upon it. As long as they keep that recognition, there’s no reason why DC TV can’t keep growing and improving into the future.
Invasion! Crossover Overall Rating: 8.5/10
Legends’ chapter of Invasion! is a satisfying and exciting conclusion to the crossover, pitting the heroes against an enemy that’s fleshed out to a greater extent in a story that looks at how far this universe has expanded, and empathetically decides to keep that expansion growing. It puts a cap on a crossover that’s been an impressive success, telling an engaging story that made room for the entire roster of characters with a whole host of memorable interactions between the heroes. There’s room for improvement – each episode was just a little too overstuffed and struggled to make every plotline worked, and the villains took a while to click. On the whole, though, this was a hugely satisfying experiment that paid off well. Now, how will they top it with next year’s crossover?