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The Mandalorian “Chapter Four: Sanctuary” Finds A Limit With Love and War

The Mandalorian Season 1 Episode Four Review: “Chapter Four: Sanctuary”

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Some minor spoilers ahead

When watching The Mandalorian “Chapter Four: Sanctuary”, I was reminded of a couple of things: firstly, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones had Anakin and Padmé awkwardly falling in love whilst picnicking in the fields of Naboo (where the most interesting takes were cut from the film). Secondly, Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Rebels did “outsiders train the local populus to protect themselves” storylines, replete with Seven Samurai homages, multiple times between them. Most of all, however, a pernicious thought crept in: is this the limit for The Mandalorian’s storytelling?

Don’t get me wrong, “Chapter Four: Sanctuary”—directed by Bryce Dallas Howard and, as always, written by Jon Favreau—is good Star Wars. It’s still flabbergasting that fully-fledged live action Star Wars is on television, even knowing the progression of technology and approach to creating high-quality prestige television as a norm. Furthermore, in a string of consistently great Star Wars episodes, this mostly keeps that tally going (though I am still more partial to the moody vistas in “Chapter Two: The Child”). The success is largely derived from the women in the two pairings that are the focal points of this episode: Julia Jones as Omera, a widow and potential love interest for our increasingly stalwart Mando, and Gina Carano as Cara Dune, an ex-Rebel Alliance “shocktrooper”.

At this stage, The Mandalorian is too good to not try being different instead of rehashing the rest of Star Wars. May this episode just be an anomaly; it would be disappointing that such a fertile premise would remain tepid and uninspired.

Julia Jones gives a deeply empathetic touch to her performance that sells dialogue which otherwise might be slightly too hammy (in a galaxy full of potentially hammy dialogue) or detestably on-the-nose in less capable hands. For example, “This nice man is going to help protect us from the bad ones” is a little much, but Jones says it reassuringly to her daughter, while her tone also conveys reassurance towards Mando that he can be his better self, not out of ignorance due to living in the backwater planet Sorgan, but rather a knowing acceptance of his life. Jones believably creates Omera as a possible romantic partner without being overly cloying, aided by a subtle pink colour palette and the exchanges between Omera and Mando being framed in very close proximity.

Julia Jones' Omera confronts the Mandalorian in Mandalorian Chapter Four

Jones’ performance is responsible for Omera being anything more than a symbol for the villagers’ plight or a life Mando inevitably cannot currently attain, because the script certainly isn’t multifaceted. Beyond her immediate mixture of appreciation, clear infatuation, and practical consideration of the two of them jointly raising their children (yes, Mando’s absolutely a dad now), the most interesting aspect of Omera as a person separate from Mando is her competence with weaponry. However, the story behind that particular capability is left to the audience’s imagination—maybe she too has escaped a military past, learnt for survival, or perhaps her dead partner taught her. It adds a layer of interiority to the character, and a reminder that one doesn’t need a physical helmet to mask one’s life and person.

There’s also something to be said for the idea that The Mandalorian is just a sequence of briefly intersecting independent lives, and that is certainly realistic, as well as keeping to the series’ Western heritage. It’s quite melancholic, however, and maybe even dissatisfying at this point, especially when fellow mercenary Cara Dune’s wise-cracking is a fun complement to Mando’s at-most deadpanning.

Gina Carano’s mixed martial artist background naturally lends some effortless brutality to her role as Cara Dune (Mando once again goes down in melee), but it’s really the evident and infectious enthusiasm beneath her character’s sassiness that makes Cara Dune something more notable than a generic badass talkative bounty hunter to Mando’s quiet one. Still, the two get a couple of tussles against each other and other enemies, so Carano’s physicality isn’t forgotten. This episode also really emphasises the tactical side of Mando’s approach to combat, and Cara Dune is an able partner.

Gina Carano's Cara Dune faces off against the Mandalorian in Mandalorian Chapter Four.

So by comparison, it’s disappointing that the final battle against the orc-like Klatooinian raiders is memorable only because of the composition of wide shots: the AT-ST’s glowing red window panes emerging from the darkened forest is a plain image, but intimidating. The rest of the battle is also plain, but just conventional. Maybe one can’t blame The Mandalorian for using tried and true battle staging in a year when Game of Thrones managed to botch the impact of its notoriously dark, climatic “Long Night” battle by losing cohesiveness. Yet it’s still dull.

Take Asif Ali’s Caben and Eugene Cordero’s Stoke (hello The Good Place’s Pillboi!). Their existence perfunctorily grants Mando and Dune a vector by which to stay and fight the Klatooinians (transporting them shelter in the middle of nowhere). So while giving these characters a heroic moment at the end to round out their arcs is routine—as all battles tend to do these days for (barely) comedic relief characters—it’s insipid, because the audience was never meant to have much of a connection to them anyway. Conversely, while Omera does shoot a few raiders, she never really gets the same treatment in the battle. Her role in combat is forgettable, which feels much more egregious given how much more attention she has been given.

Most gratingly for the remotely cinematically-savvy viewer is the repetition of variations on the phrase “we just need [the AT-ST] to step forward” into the trenches and fishing pools to topple it. It’s very obvious that the AT-ST won’t fall over easily, and somebody (Cara Dune) will need to heroically put themselves in the line of fire. While in “Chapter One” it was clear that Mando wasn’t about to be riddled with torrents of plasma blasts, there was some uncertainty as to how things would be resolved. Here, there’s merely a veneer of tension.

An AT-ST Walker enters the battlefield in Mandalorian Chapter Four

Maybe that’s true for the entirety of “Chapter Four: Sanctuary”. While this is probably a necessary step for Mando’s development, it all feels a little rote and the dialogue occasionally pat. Even if one subscribes to Georges Polti’s analysis that there are only thirty-six dramatic situations anyway, Star Wars has done this particular situation before. Even The Mandalorian has already hit most of these story beats.

Generously, this episode repeating a narrative framework demonstrates the changes in Mando’s personality, and maybe that is the issue: Mando, as a character, is not static. Throughout these reviews, I have lauded the gradual shifts in his personality, and that is still true, but in the space of four episodes, he is no longer the icy, detached gunman first introduced. He’s significantly softened. The Mandalorian “Chapter Four: Sanctuary” has him take off his helmet while loitering alone in some really heavy-handed symbolism, and then never relenting to Omera’s attempts in doing the same in company—equally clumsy symbolism. It’s character growth, however, and maybe the only parts of the episode that utilises subtext.

Therefore, The Mandalorian keeping its story in a relative holding pattern and re-treading ideas is incongruous with its main character’s development and arguably antithetical to the spirit of Star Wars. For all their faults, the Prequel Era films are distinct from the more personal, adventurous Original Trilogy with their heavier socio-political angle. The Last Jedi is divisive partly because it defied certain expectations, for better or worse. Not to overly insert paratext, but Disney CEO Bob Iger reports that George Lucas criticised The Force Awakens for having “nothing new”.

It would be foolish to claim that Star Wars isn’t also a product of pre-existing influences (from the typical Campbell’s monomyth to Samurai films to Flash Gordon to Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series), but it is responsible for pushing technological boundaries and instituting a grimy, technologically advanced though stagnant aesthetic that has profoundly affected science-fictional design and approach. The Mandalorian itself, within those recognisable Star Warsian trappings, has been toying with and successfully reinterpreting that set visual language up to now.

We’re now as close to the midpoint of The Mandalorian’s first season as we possibly can be, so it’s worth taking stock of where the series lies as an entity. In the first episode review, The Mandalorian was cast against the history of Star Wars up to now. Even then, its more contemplative approach set it apart from much of the more directly swashbuckling milieu. Star Wars has had complexity and meaningful themes that give it enduring appeal, but The Mandalorian primarily traded on elements like subtextual implications and atmosphere as ways to dissect the protagonist, which is rarer for Star Wars. So suffice to say, this show is largely an exceptional piece of Star Wars storytelling at a time when the idea of what makes Star Wars, well, Star Wars, is once again in flux.

However, in shifting its approach to being “Star Warsian” every episode, The Mandalorian is implicitly also trying to be more than just great for a Star Wars series. Therefore maybe, if it deserves to be considered simply one of the better series of 2019, it should be assessed on those terms as well. The artistic intent of series should be different, and The Mandalorian arbitrarily not meeting the expectation of having the same emotional nuance as, say, The Americans or Breaking Bad, doesn’t make it a bad or “worse” series. But these reviews maybe have been doing a disservice to the aspirations of The Mandalorian by only celebrating its greatness as Star Wars.

There is perhaps a level of implied condescension there, that Star Wars isn’t high artistic expression already, and that is not the intent, because Star Wars, regardless of its saturating brand, was in many ways revolutionary, Oscar Award-winning cinema in 1977. A series cannot resonate for forty years and be devoid of artistic merit. Personally, several of them are amongst my favourite films.

Yet the first few episodes of The Mandalorian have been trying to do more than be excellent Star Wars, and etching away at that boundary with confidence, so tempering expectations of how far the series can go is not necessarily beneficial.

This quandary is laid out, because, once again, The Mandalorian “Chapter Four: Sanctuary” is good, solid Star Wars. Not the best episode thus far, but it’s fine. On a technical level, Director Bryce Dallas Howard and returning Director of Photography Baz Idoine accentuate the differing colour palettes in each scene, so that they’re vibrant. Omera and Mando’s conversations supersede Padmé and Anakin’s in Attack of the Clones in sounding natural. Yet “Chapter Four: Sanctuary” lacks an ephemeral quality that would make it brilliant television outside of Star Wars.

Omera hides with her daughter, Winta in Mandalorian Chapter Four

It’s more disheartening because there are hints of the episode potentially continuing exploring the relationship between predator and prey from “Chapter Three: The Sin” in a more unique way: The Klatooinian Raiders against the villagers; the hissing Tooka Cat almost eating the Yodaling; the Yodaling deciding to not eat another frog. I was hopeful that keeping the camera on Omera’s face hiding underneath the water from the Klantoonian invasion in the opening sequence would lead to the entire episode giving an outsider’s perspective to Mando’s effects on the galaxy, and follow on from the simple, but clever, visual trick of repeatedly cutting to the Yodaling’s point of view.

Not to impose inflexible ideals upon The Mandalorian “Chapter Four: Sanctuary”, or claim that such a filming technique would be the most creative or inventive idea, but something like the aforementioned approach would probably alleviate my qualms with Omera’s more superficial characterisation. You could probably even follow this episode’s story beat for beat, and it would be more intriguing.

Most of all, at least it would be different. At this stage, The Mandalorian is too good to not try being different instead of rehashing the rest of Star Wars. May this episode just be an anomaly; it would be disappointing that such a fertile premise would remain tepid and uninspired.

Other Thoughts/Observations:

The Yodaling’s still cute, but I feel it’s remained more of a prop than a lively baby since “Chapter Two: The Child”. I’m mildly nauseated by the repeated visual gag of the Yodaling popping up right behind Mando when he’s told him to stay or put him down. Don’t overplay a good joke, The Mandalorian!

I really hope that Kuiil and Cara Dune eventually join Mando permanently. They’re both interesting enough characters, and even Cowboy Bebop managed to keep its disparate, solitary characters, together by convenience, grouped for most of the series! You don’t have to be alone to be brooding Mando!

If there’s one thing that really should be appreciated about this series, it’s how naturally diverse it is. Pedro Pascal is Chilean-American; Carl Weathers is African-American; Julia Jones is mixed-race, including being of African American, Choctaw, and Chickasaw descent; Omid Abtahi is Iranian. It may just be a few examples so far, but the fact that these are pretty major or reoccurring characters in a Star Wars series is significant for redressing the imbalance in racial diversity. It sets a good example, and Lucasfilm should be commended. Now to work on furthering characterisation.

I’m a little miffed that “Chapter Four: Sanctuary” drops its definite article, but I suppose it’s defying convention in one way.

Declan Biswas-Hughes has led a very nomadic life, which influenced his decision to study European and International Law. He unwinds from writing essays on the minutiae of legalese by writing things like essays on the minutiae of anime, because he really knows how to party. You can find him on Twitter (@fringence), popping up on AniTAY, and occasionally out clubbing when he’s not trying to finish a novel.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Ricky Fernandes da Conceição

    November 30, 2019 at 12:53 pm

    Ooof … This episode was all kinds of bad. I think it has some of the worst dialogue and acting in any show I’ve seen all year. It had a few great moments, but most of the episode made me cringe.

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The Expanse Season Four Episode 1 Review: “New Terra”

The Expanse’s long hiatus proves worth the wait, in an hour full of familiar faces and intriguing mysteries.

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The Expanse New Terra

With belters, humans, and Martians alike side-eyeing the unknown, The Expanse‘s own transition to a new home for its fourth season serves as a fitting metaphor for “New Terra,” the long-awaited season premiere. Moving to a new world is a frightening proposition; for some like Naomi, it isn’t even possible without some serious modifications – but thankfully, that’s where the meta-textual comparisons end: “New Terra” is an abundantly confident season premiere, an elegant table-setting episode with enough touches of flair and emotion to keep it feeling from like a greatest hits album.

“New Terra” is a wonderful re-introduction to The Expanse’s slow-burn storytelling, and proof that a new home hasn’t fundamentally changed television’s best science fiction series.

Though if the entire 48 minutes of “New Terra” was just spent catching up with characters, I wouldn’t have complained: be it Jim having a moment with his mother, or Bobbie and Alex’s phone call, The Expanse‘s premiere is a heartwarming re-introduction to its world and wide ensemble of characters. Eight months have passed since the Sol Ring opened its gates to humanity; and since then, the UNN has shot just about anyone down that’s tried to pass with impunity. Though “Abaddon’s Gate” proffered the hope that humanity could evolve, “New Terra” is a reminder of how slow and meticulous the process of evolution can be: everyone remains desperately afraid of the unknown, even after four small ships of refugees escape through the ring, landing on a fully habitable planet on the other side.

The Expanse New Terra

“New Terra” doesn’t take us to that new planet – dubbed Ilus by the belters who’ve claimed it as their new home – until late in the episode, but the weight of its appearance on humanity’s radar reverberates through The Expanse‘s world, an event that begins to draw the many scattered pieces of its ensemble back into each other’s orbit. Sure, it is convenient for the OG Rocinante crew to be tasked to going to Ilus, passing upon characters like Camina and Avasarala (who is now the Secretary-General) along the way – but goddamnit, it’s still a blast to watch, a series of heartwarming moments giving the 18-month absence between seasons some literal weight.

It’s also fitting the belter refugees (who had been reeling through space since Ganymede was destroyed) landed on Ilus, because that’s exactly where the proto-molecule wants to head. “Miller,” who appears to be glitching a little bit, is still tagging along in Holden’s brain, casually begging him to get back into space and head towards the ring; “it’s where the next clue is” he repeats to Holden, who clearly just wants a bit of time to chill out, and digest the cascade of insane experiences he’s had over the past few years of his life.

The Expanse New Terra

But destiny calls, and it’s only a few scenes before Holden is back on the freshly upgraded and restored Roci, back in space with Naomi (whose added a few tattoos), Alex, and Amos, a throwback to simpler times aboard their stolen/salvaged/now properly owned MCRN spaceship. Propulsed by their return, and a depressed Bobbie’s reminiscing about having a mission that mattered, “New Terra” pushes forward by leaning on familiar faces in unfamiliar settings; until its harrowing final moments, when an RCE science vessel crash lands on Ilus after being attacked.

The Expanse knows how to make space feel vast and dangerous – but what it does best is capture the absolute fucking terror of the unknown; Adolphous Multry’s attempt to land on Ilus with his very excited crew is an encapsulation of the show’s versatility, the latest tragic event shrouded in extraterrestrial mystery. Multry’s introduction is particularly brilliant; watching the man brace himself as his ship crashes and people begin violently dying around him, offers a bracing portrait of resilience, one that could be quite the force to contend with among the unsettled refugees, the inquisitive mission of the Roci crew, and the scientists poking around to find some of that infamous Yukon gold (Avasarala’s story of the bodies stacked next to the people willing to throw themselves into danger takes on quite a bit of power in the aftermath of their mysterious crash).

But push forward into the dangerous unknown we will; that notion comes through no stronger than with Naomi Nagata, who puts herself through a brutal montage of preparation to land on Ilus. The tragedy of the belters, as Camina reminds her, is that they are truly the people of space, the survivalist evolution of their physiology making it an arduous journey to try and adapt to living on a surface, with gravity (even those who have gravity, as we saw when Bobbie went to New York in season three, struggle to move to a new planet). It’s so arduous, in fact, the notoriously resilient Camina wants nothing to do with it – and ends her SpaceTime call with Naomi on a particularly ominous, unsettling note.

The Expanse New Terra

If there’s a true conflict to be found in “New Terra,” it comes from the familiar place of the belters and survivors of Ganymede; as they dream of a new home among the stars, their identity as the tough, unstoppable force between the “inners” is bound to shift and evolve, as their bodies and minds adjust to living on new worlds. What does that mean for the belters – and more interestingly, for The Expanse? Humanity’s continued struggle to find common ground among the stars is a reminder that no matter what wonders we may experience, our instincts towards violence and hostility will remain – and in fact, are set to thrive in a world where the UNN controls the destiny of every life in the known galaxy.

“New Terra” uses the splintering identity of belter culture as an interesting prism to set the stage for the season to come: as they fracture into belters, pirates, UNN employees (or “traitors,” as some are referring to Klaes) and Ilus settlers, Camina is right that the old belter way may be lost. “Two generations, and they will be inners,” she tells Naomi, afraid that the safety and security potentially offered by these new lives will insulate them from the harsh truths of the universe. That fear is palpable, and dangerous: as humanity heads out into the unknown together, clinging onto the familiar remains an enticing, and sometimes necessary, anchoring mechanism.

The Expanse New Terra

But if we are to truly evolve, we must learn from the lessons of the past: despite the UNN aggression, there’s a sense nobody wants to go to war again. There’s a sense that the next war might actually be the last one for humanity – it may be the weapons that vaporize them all into space junk, but its the divisions defined by the identities of the old world that could kill them all. That tenuous, frustrating peace formed between the inners and belters is always an engaging ground for sociopolitical theory; the existential crisis facing the belters only makes that conflict even more strained, and dramatically engrossing.

Evocative and mysterious, “New Terra” is a wonderful re-introduction to The Expanse‘s slow-burn storytelling, and proof that a new home hasn’t fundamentally changed television’s best science fiction series. Though it certainly utilizes the nostalgic crutch of seeing old friends as a driver for what is a particularly quiet premiere, it’s hard to argue it doesn’t succeed – especially in the episode’s second half, as “New Terra” firmly begins to take steps forward into the narrative labyrinth of its fourth season. It may be a strange new home for The Expanse and its characters – but it is clearly the same enthralling, ambitious space drama it was before its cancellation, making for an exciting, welcome return to the nuclear-powered adventures of the Rocinante.

Other thoughts/observations:

Just want to get this out at the beginning of the season: Fuuuuuck, I have missed The Expanse.

Avasarala has bigger problems than four belter ships sneaking through the belt; half of earth’s population is unemployed, desperate to take to the stars to give their lives purpose. Bobbie does make a great point, after all.

Jim’s mother Elise gives him a copy of Don Quixote before he leaves for Ilus. For those unfamiliar with the novel, Rocinante is the name of Don Quixote’s horse (who went from ashy to classy in his own right).

Bobbie’s hair! Naomi’s hair! Everyone’s hair! It looks so good!

“Madman and prophet; it’s possible to be both.”

Avasarala warns Holden not to “put his dick” into whatever’s going on on Ilus, advice he is destined to fail to adhere to

Klaes refusing to give his verification code to the UNN warships until the very last moment, and Bobbie angrily yelling at a stranger in a bar, are the kind of character touches that make The Expanse shine.

It speaks to The Expanse‘s writing that they’ve made a couple like Naomi and Holden work; his smile when she begins to walk on Ilus’s surface is a real tearjerker.

Bobbie has multiple roommates, as if her life couldn’t be any more challenging and seemingly pointless.

black weaponized smoke? This LOST fan is ready to fucking go!

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Degrassi Junior High, “Season’s Greetings”

25 Days of Holiday TV Specials

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Join us as we spend the next 25 days writing about some of our favourite Holiday TV specials! Today we look back at Degrassi Junior High, “Season’s Greetings”.

What’s it About?

After Arthur and Yick having a falling out, Dorothy decides to take it upon herself to mend their friendship by recollecting the best moments they spent together. Meanwhile, Emma’s daycare falls through and Spike is forced to care for her at school. While there, Spike can’t avoid Shane and finally agrees to allow him to hold and see his daughter for the very first time.

Degrassi is one of those very few Canadian TV programs that had success outside the country. The CBC Television teen drama followed the lives of a group of students attending the titular fictional school. Many episodes tackled the true issues facing teenagers every day. Such difficult topics included drug and child abuse, teenage pregnancy, homophobia, racism, and divorce, and the series was acclaimed for its sensitive and realistic portrayal of the challenges of teenage life. Following the short series The Kids of Degrassi Street (1982), Degrassi Junior High (DJH) went on to establish the franchise’s popularity. Hailed as “groundbreaking,” “powerful,” and “totally authentic,” Degrassi Junior High did it all and long before any other teen series.

degrassi-junior-high-seasons-greetings-18

It’s hard to say whether or not the program holds after so many decades. Those nostalgic for the ’80s and those who grew up watching the show could very well find it entertaining. Others may be immediately turned off by the overall look of the program. After all, this was the 80’s and Degrassi wasn’t afforded a big budget– so it’s no surprise that each episode looks likes something Cindy Lauper or Boy George would disgorge. Still, there could very well be some fascination for teenagers of today to look back on what high-school was like before mobile phones, mp3 players, and Lady Gaga were ever invented.

If you’ve never seen an episode of Degrassi, “Seasons Greetings” wouldn’t be the best place to start. The main casting draw, heartthrob teen idol Joey Jeremiah (played by the charismatic Pat Mastroianni), hardly gets any screen-time, nor does any of the other major players. Instead, the writers opted to focus on two minor characters Arthur and Yick, best friends, both geeks and both under-appreciated despite sharing some of the series’ most memorable moments (Robot porn anyone?). “Season’s Greetings” basically acts as a highlight reel for the two. Incorporating flashbacks through the narrative, audiences are treated to a trip down memory lane as we watch their best moments on the series unfold again.

Degrassi Junior High Christmas Special

This quintessential teen series is a show that served as a model for dozens of others shows like it since it first premiered. While “Seasons Greetings” is a very weak entry in the groundbreaking series, one can’t deny how each episode captures what being a teenager felt like, and well sometimes even life as a teenager can be pretty dull, even around Christmas.

  • Ricky D

How Christmassy is it?

like 20% Christmassy since 80% of the episode was spent on flashbacks.

You May Like It If…

If you are nostalgic for the ’80s, grew up watching the series, or is someone who loves to torture him or herself.

Final Thoughts:

Yeah, this kind of sucked.

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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.

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