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“Crisis on Infinite Earths” Is an Endearingly Clumsy Love Letter to DC’s Television Legacy

DCTV’s sprawling, ambitious crossover is creatively uneven, but its endearing nostalgia easily outweighs its flaws.

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Crisis on Infinite Earths

The ambition of The CW’s “Crisis on Infinite Earths” crossover can’t be understated, an attempt to integrate the network’s sprawling set of universes into a single, coherent reality – and perhaps more importantly, to say farewell to the series, and star, at its heart. A world-hopping, universe-jumping adventure acting as an homage to 50-plus years of DC television (and, in one notable case, film), the first three parts of “Crisis on Infinite Earths” are unfiltered joy, embracing its limited budget and impossibly large cast of characters (and famous cameos) in a wildly entertaining – if creatively uneven – journey through DC’s strange history on the small screen.

The sheer audacity of “Crisis on Infinite Earths” is, frankly, incredible to watch: while it doesn’t always work, it makes the crossover event utterly fascinating to dissect.

The CW’s sixth official crossover technically began during its fifth; last season’s “Elseworlds” established the broad strokes to follow, setting Oliver Queen on his path to destiny – and in the process, muting the impact of every isolated storyline of the extended DC lineup. The reveal of The Monitor in “Elseworlds (Part 3)” (which was Supergirl‘s ninth episode of its fourth season, if anyone is keeping score) was intriguing, but ultimately distracting: knowing the fate of the multiverse was casually hanging in the balance, limited the ability of stories like Lex Luthor and Barry’s convoluted time-traveling to have any sort of noticeable impact. Knowing what was coming made these (slightly) smaller-scale stories just not matter; knowing the final season of Arrow was directly integrated with the “impending crisis” only further overwhelmed any sense of purpose the stories of its shows held.

(and if we’re being honest, “Crisis on Infinite Earths” has kind of been teased since The Flash‘s pilot episode in 2014, though that’s splitting hairs a bit.)

Crisis on Infinite Earths

Perhaps it is all that hype that makes “Crisis on Infinite Earths (Part 1)” the weakest entry of the three to air this week (parts four and five air in mid-January) feel like such an underwhelming, rushed introduction to this universe-hopping story of Drama and Emotion. When an anti-matter wave begins wiping out parallel Earths (including Earth-66, letting them sneak in a quick Burt Ward cameo), “Crisis on Infinite Earths” begins pulling it its many iconic major characters – which, let’s admit, doesn’t quite have the same impact it did back in “Invasion” or “Crisis on Earth-X”.

It then spends an inordinate member of time trying to integrate Supergirl‘s supporting cast into the fray (albeit briefly); which, as fans of previous crossovers would probably agree, always ends up being the weakest part of any crossover. Lena, Querl, Alex, and Kelly feel like nothing but obligatory inclusions in the episode – whatever is going on with Supergirl and the DEO, “Crisis on Infinite Earths (Part 1)” struggles mightily to make it feel like anything meaningful.

In their defense, it’s hard to invest in whatever side stories Part 1 is trying to nod towards; it all pales in comparison to seeing Kara fawn over momma Lois and poppa Clark, which is a tall task to compete with. But the DEO’s characters are noticeable momentum killers, moments where “Crisis on Infinite Earths” fumbles at grounding its outlandish, epic story with the non-powered entities of its universe.

Crisis on Infinite Earths

Unfortunately, it gets worse before it gets better: once we get all the heroes arranged, we get a lame-ass fight scene where the heroes (Supergirl, The Flash, Green Arrow, Atom, White Canary, Superman, and Batwoman) battle against some terrible CGI demons. It is easily the low point of all three hours, a clumsily-executed scene that utterly fails in providing any sense of urgency to the larger story (The Monitor’s nemesis killing off entire planets and realities with a massive wave of anti-matter, in case you were wondering).

It’s strange, because the fight scene ostensibly serves as the kicking off point for the whole crossover: and boy, is it awkward when it tries to make the CGI ghost fight the moment Oliver sacrifices himself to save the universe (or does he?). It’s a halting way to end Part 1, after a herky-jerky hour with a few choice cameos (including Griffin Newman as a trivia host, and Wil Wheaton as a protestor) and a lot of sci-fi mumbo jumbo establishing the stakes of the anti-matter wave.

“Crisis on Infinite Earths (Part 2)” is really where the crossover comes to life; both as a contained story, and a cumulative celebration of the strange, long legacy of mixed DC media. Batwoman travels to a parallel Earth to visit an embittered Batman (played by longtime Batman voice actor Kevin Conroy), Sara Lance gives Jonah Hex his signature scar outside a Lazarus Pit, and there’s an extended cameo of Tom Welling and Erica Durance as the OG The CW Clark and Lois; though all of those things are exactly as ludicrous and self-indulgent as they sound, the more Part 2 – and as a byproduct, Part 3 – bounce around worlds to visit iconic characters (and performers) from its past, the more powerful it becomes as a true crossover event.

Crisis on Infinite Earths

And despite the abundance of casting announcements and on-set photos, “Crisis of Infinite Earths” is still able to deliver a number of surprising appearances: who could’ve predicted a scene where Netflix’s Lucifer Morningstar talks to NBC/The CW’s John Constantine, which occurs after Part 3 does a motherfucking Birds of Prey cameo with Ashley Scott (AND the voice of Dina Meyer as Oracle, to boot). It is a fanfiction wet dream come true, even FINALLY integrating Black Lightning‘s Jefferson Pierce into the multiverse, with a shockingly (sorry) strong introduction of The CW’s most underrated hero into the already-crowded mix.

The sheer audacity of “Crisis on Infinite Earths” is, frankly, incredible to watch: while it doesn’t always work, it makes both Parts 2 and 3 utterly fascinating to dissect. It is Justice League by way of Into the Spider-Verse and Avengers: Endgame, as clumsy and endearing as that sounds; at times, it utterly fails to make its universe-ending narrative hold any actual weight, but it is an emotional powerhouse of iconic, often underappreciated performances in DC’s television history (I swear to God, if they bring in Linda Hamilton for a Wonder Woman cameo, I’ll lose my shit).

If we’re being honest, it’s more interesting in its construction than it is in execution: after ingesting 200+ episodes of DC television over the years, I hold no expectations for “Crisis on Infinite Earths” to ever capture the immense dramatic potential of its narrative.

Crisis on Infinite Earths

That’s just not what DC television is good at (save for a couple of seasons of Arrow, and most of Legends of Tomorrow): where these shows shine is their heartfelt depictions of human connection, of the beauty in finding shared purpose. At that, “Crisis on Infinite Earths” is a pretty resounding success; whether Batwoman and Supergirl’s young friendship, or Barry’s tunnel-visioned optimism, “Crisis on Infinite Earths” proves the DC universe still has engaging stories to tell with the biggest stars of the present – and with characters like Kate Kane, Jefferson Pierce, and Ryan Choi (introduced in Part 3, in what appears to possibly be establishing a new Atom), the future.

We’ll have to wait until January to see how the grand experiment to unite all the timelines works out – but in its holiday send-off, “Crisis on Infinite Earths” is a pretty touching love letter to decades of superhero television, earning its entry into the annals of modern television’s most ambitious endeavors.

Other thoughts/observations:

In what appears to be his swan song (knowing that he is departing Legends of Tomorrow), Brandon Routh’s double-duty as Ray Palmer and Superman (reprising his role from Superman Returns) is wonderful.

Even Wentworth Miller makes an appearance, kind of: the alternate-reality Wave Rider the team of heroes, paragons, and ominous entities are guided by Leonard, an AI who ironically sounds exactly like Captain Cold.

We forever stan Sara Lance; to see her guide and organize the team in Part 1 and Part 2… well, it’s just beautiful to see.

Boy, it is strange how “Crisis” just kind of glosses over Batwoman killing the bitter, murderous version of Batman her and Supergirl visit in Part 2.

Easy litmus test to know whether you’re in or out on this whole endeavor; whether you jump for joy or scream in agony when hearing the word “infinitude” in the opening moments of Part 1.

There is a very, VERY brief shot of a few characters from DC Universe’s Titans, which I always forget exists. No Doom Patrol or Swamp Thing, unfortunately.

Unlike previous crossovers, only Supergirl‘s episode feels like it is still kind of trying to be an episode of its own series. I haven’t watched much Batwoman, but part 2 definitely does not attempt to make any play at drawing in a new audience with a unique display of personality (and in fact, I don’t think there’s a single other Batwoman regular in the episode).

Apparently the Brec Bassinger Stargirl character will make her debut in the final part of “Crisis on Infinite Earths”, even though her series is not airing until 2020… on DC Universe? Modern television is so fucking weird.

It is still hard to believe Jon Cryer as Lex Luthor.

There are hints of the theme from the 1989 Batman film in Blake Neely’s score, which is just fucking insane.

When Earth 90’s Barry Allen makes a major sacrifice, we are treated to a brief flashback to actual footage from the 1991 The Flash series. It is perhaps the most breathtaking surprise of the whole crossover.

A TV critic since the pre-Peak TV days of 2011, Randy is a critic and editor formerly of Sound on Sight, Processed Media, TVOvermind, Pop Optiq, and many, many others.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. rerryo

    January 19, 2020 at 6:04 pm

    “The ambition of The CW’s “Crisis on Infinite Earths” crossover can’t be understated…”

    You just said the exact opposite of what you meant. If two seconds of thought don’t make you realize that, then ask your favorite fifth-grader to explain it to you.

  2. Ricky Fernandes da Conceição

    January 19, 2020 at 6:49 pm

    I am not sure if you understand the definition of “understated”???

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