[WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for The Flash Season 2, Episode 8]
If there's one compliment that can be paid to the braintrust behind The Flash, Arrow and the upcoming Legends of Tomorrow, it's that they aren't afraid of taking on the tasks of universe-building that would frighten off other production teams. It's because of that fact that this week's two-part crossover between their headlining stars begins with full reveal of not one, but three new DC Comics characters (on top of continuing each show's storylines). The result is an episode dripping with fan service - but one that ultimately has far too many masters to serve to ever hope of doing it well.
In "Legends of Yesterday", written by Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg, and Aaron and Todd Helbing, a strange killer comes to Central City to hunt down Kendra Saunders (Ciara Renée), forcing Barry (Grant Gustin) to seek out Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) and his Team Arrow for help. The emergence of a winged warrior who claims to have the answers only complicates things, setting up a villain the likes of which neither Barry nor Oliver has faced before.
First things first: The CW's attempts at launching characters, subplots, or larger universe-changing factors like superpowers or magic have not always gone off smoothly, often sapping momentum from individual episodes or existing storylines. Thankfully, the decision to introduce Vandal Savage (Casper Crump) - who will soon take the role of 'big bad' for Legends of Tomorrow - in The Flash actually shows the kind of elegant cross-universe storytelling fans have come to hope for.
When it was announced that Kendra Saunders would be coming to The Flash before Legends, most assumed it was to give the character a springboard on par with her castmates (the rest of the Legends have been seen in The CW's universe already). What they didn't expect was to see the character's origin worked so completely into the growing fiction of Arrow and The Flash's current season.
On paper, the plan is being executed to perfection. Cisco (Carlos Valdes) uses his new superpower to sense big things in his new girlfriend's future, those big things get even bigger when a magical villain comes to town, establishing himself as too much for masked vigilantes, and chasing the now-fully-revealed Hawkgirl off into their own series. It's a thing of shared universe beauty if it can be pulled off, and Crump is up to the task of playing an immortal villain. Unfortunately and, perhaps fittingly, it's the velocity that becomes the problem.
On the bright side, Renée has established herself as a competent member of the shared universe cast already, and the same can be said for her new Hawkman (Falk Hentschel), who manages to grab a few genuine, charming laughs in his brief time on screen. Sure, the costume and flying effects may seem a little too close to Smallville's style than superhero movie fans will like, but... you work with what you're given (a flying man in a bird mask is a hard sell no matter what).
On one hand, being able to explain the finicky mythology of Hawkgirl and Hawkman in a single scene is an impressive feat. And thanks to Hentschel's matter-of-fact delivery, viewers will either be on board with the story of reincarnation and endless battle or not. But the consequences of leveraging so much of the episode's story on new characters is apparent once the credits roll: the presence of Green Arrow is almost an afterthought. There's a cocktail party scene and some exposition offered by Ra's al Ghul, but with the crossover setting up such monumental action and mythology, its own importance pales in comparison.
Seeing the cast of Arrow break out of their angsty brooding is always welcome (if, quite frankly, out of character considering the plot they're pulled directly out of). But as entertaining as the laughs or novel moments may be, they're fleeting. Fans are outright told to expect fireworks with a crossover, and while "Legends of Today" serves a larger purpose than the previous crossovers, we doubt fans were hoping the biggest payoff of seeing their heroes unite would be comedic relief.
As much as the presence of The Flash, Green Arrow, Hawkgirl, Hawkman, Speedy and Vibe probably should feel like the small screen Justice League Amell promised so long ago - and technically, is - it's hard to avoid the feeling that The CW and the producers are planting more seeds than they're reaping. Again, the sheer number of plots at work in the single episode is to blame, meaning the only chance at success is to give each their due time on the screen, and giving up any attempt to make any of them truly profound.
It's possible that these issues will be remedied in the crossover's second half, but only time will tell. For now, it's enough to say that the stars and characters sharing the same set will undoubtedly get fans demanding nothing more than that excited. But in hindsight, any one of these subplots - Hawkman's return, Vandal Savage's arrival, Kendra coming to grips with her past and taking a leap of faith, or receiving more than a single sentence of guidance from Barry - could have carried enough drama for its own episode. If the crossover ends with the heroes taking flight together, fans would have the right to feel they were robbed of the journey to takeoff.
As further evidence the writers probably bit off more than they could chew this week, Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh) is also shot in the chest by Patty Spivot (Shantel VanSanten) this episode, leaving him clinging to life until Jay Garrick (Teddy Sears) regained his speed with an injection of 'Velocity 6' and removed the bullet. We wonder if that will come back later...
The Flash crossover continues on Arrow with "Legends of Yesterday", with regular programming returning next Tuesday @8pm with "Running to Stand Still". Watch a preview of the crossover's conclusion below: