Elseworlds Part 2
The Elseworlds crossover continues with a trip to Gotham City, the introduction of a bat themed vigilante and further development of the mounting threat.
After several collective seasons of teasing the Arrowverse finally lets audiences see Gotham City while quickly explaining why neither Batman or Bruce Wayne have been seen before now. It turns our that Bruce Wayne left Gotham three years ago for reasons that are unknown which means that Gotham doesn’t have Batman to defend it. Amusingly, Oliver believes that Batman is a myth conjured by the Gotham Police Department to scare criminals and doesn’t want Batman stealing his thunder as the first costumed vigilante. His insecurity around this subject is hilarious and works really well in context of both the character as well as the universe.
Gotham City has a really distinct visual style that makes this feel less like an episode of Arrow and more like an episode of a different show entirely. This is fitting since it serves as something of a backdoor pilot for a potential new CW DC TV series starring Batwoman who is introduced in this episode. Barry, Oliver and Kara are very much intruders into that world and the episode has a lot of fun with that idea.
Soon after arriving in Gotham, the trio are threatened by muggers and locked up in jail before their bail is posted by a mysterious stranger who reveals herself as Kate Kane (Ruby Rose); cousin to Bruce Wayne looking after what’s left of the business now that he’s no longer around. Right off the bat -pun definitely intended- Kate makes a really profound impression. She’s cool, distant and enigmatic in her own way. It’s clear she doesn’t play well with others and only takes an interest in the visiting trio in order to get rid of them. It isn’t explicitly stated but there’s the suggestion that the current state of Gotham has broken her to some degree and it’s easy to see why given the widespread dilapidation that surrounds her.
Despite this she tries to do whatever good she can as Batwoman; a bat themed vigilante picking up the slack in the absence of Batman. The episode is light on her backstory and overall motivation but there’s enough in the subtext to make certain assumptions about her motivation. Ruby Rose is great in the role, immediately putting her stamp on Kate Kane and delivering a character compelling enough to carry her own show should it come to that. I’d definitely like to see more and found this to be an effective tease of the potential she has.
Introducing new characters that may get their own spinoff often has a tendency to overpower the episode. This does happen to an extent though the focus isn’t really on Kate as a character. She’s certainly a large part of the story but spends most of it keeping to herself and allowing the trio to have the resources they need to figure out their next move without caring enough to be involved in it. Once again the subtext suggests that she only cares about her particular bubble so has no interest in what Barry, Oliver and Kara are up to.
Barry, Oliver and Kara’s investigation leads them to Arkham Asylum in search of Dr. John Deacon. As they get there the Geek Squad -as Felicity puts it- have learned of a book that rewrites reality thanks to the intervention of a Flash from another Earth so naturally their objective is to get their hands on that book. The visit to Arkham allows for a walking tour of Batman references through the names on cell doors, labelled equipment and the appearance of Nora Fries (Cassandra Jean Amell) -who uses her husband’s cold gun to fight Caitlin in a brief yet fun sequence- and the use of Scarecrow’s fear toxin to make Barry and Oliver’s greatest fears manifest. This manifestation has a twist thanks to the body swapping conceit. Oliver sees Eobard Thawne and Barry sees Malcolm Merlyn. What follows is a great action sequence that expertly cuts between Barry fighting Malcolm Merlyn, Oliver fighting Eobard Thawne and the two heroes fighting each other. Both of the villain manifestations cover off the character backstories as they fight which is really on the nose but it’s a great sequence put to an abrupt yet cool end by the intervention of Batwoman.
The manifestations of fear have a greater purpose in terms of Oliver and Barry achieving a greater understanding of the other. Barry now truly understands the terrible things Oliver has been through and how much pain he routinely carries while Oliver now understands that Barry’s life isn’t as easy as he thought it was. There’s a suggestion of envy on Oliver’s part as his perception of Barry was that things came really easily to him and that everyone liked him but facing up against a hallucination of Thawne shows him that Barry carries around his share of darkness. Whether this will have any ongoing impact on either character remains to be seen but it clearly deepens their friendship through this deeper mutual understanding.
Arkham Asylum looks great as a location and allows for some really exciting action. Diggle taking on a legion of inmates makes for a really well put together hand to hand sequence and seeing Batwoman do her thing however briefly was really impressive. The escape of several of the inmates acts as a decent setup for a potential Batwoman series should her early mission be rounding up the escapees. I’m hopeful that the premise would be more interesting than that but there’s certainly something there to be used.
The strongest connection for Kate Kane aka Batwoman is with Kara. She makes reference to her cousin being “frenemies” with Bruce Wayne on her Earth which confirms that Batman is who has previously been referenced on Supergirl and that he exists on both Earths. It seems only a matter of time before he makes his appearance on one of the shows but for now it’s all about Batwoman. Kara and Kate’s interactions set up a potential fun partnership somewhere down the line judging by their mutually respectful and borderline flirtatious farewell. Kate’s reference to “World’s Finest” is both a fun nod and a confirmation that she isn’t against the idea.
The field trip to Gotham does more to set up a Batwoman TV series than furthering the plot of the crossover. Their reason for coming to Gotham is to chase down a lead but that gets buried among all the Batman references and the general Gotham City world building. The Elseworlds story is largely relegated to a subplot involving Team Flash and Team Arrow working together to learn more about what they’re dealing with. This eventually results in the appearance of Barry Allen from Earth 90 (John Wesley Shipp) who explains to them that the Monitor’s name is Mar Novu and he is using the reality rewriting book to test various realities to defend against the oncoming Crisis. His aim is to find a universe strong enough to stand against the mysterious powerful entity that is apparently on its way and he is so far unimpressed by what he finds. To his mind rewriting reality using the book is the closest approximation of the reality crushing that will come when the Crisis hits. It’s all fairly vague and poorly explained but it’s the biggest tease for the oncoming Crisis that we’ve had so far and seems to confirm the inevitability of it.
Since the two episodes have been focused on storytelling outside of the Monitor’s plan the whole thing still feels underdeveloped. Relegating it to the background is a bad decision because it means that it doesn’t feel as urgent as the episode clearly wants audiences to think it is. The Monitor has had barely any screen time which makes it difficult for him to be a significant threat. Earth-90 Barry Allen’s arrival seemed to signify a focus on that particular plot using him as the expert that would help the other characters but he’s dismissed pretty much as soon as he drops the necessary exposition which is both clumsy writing and a wasted opportunity. This could have been achieved without that character so it feels like his appearance was unnecessary which makes for a wasted opportunity to fully integrate the 90s The Flash series into the Arrowverse.
This episode also features an awkward subplot where Oliver and Felicity agonise over their feelings. The previous Arrow episode ended with Felicity taking a break from Oliver because of how much she has changed as a person and this carries over into this episode. Barry and Caitlin make their opinion on the subject known through heart to heart conversations encouraging them to reconcile. This concludes with Oliver telling Felicity that he accepts her being different and they apparently make up. None of this is interesting because the breakdown in their relationship was motivated by the desire to inject unnecessary angst into Arrow as a show so the reconciliation doesn’t mean much since it will likely end up being temporary anyway.
With the finale of this crossover imminent the hope is that the focus will be entirely on the Monitor and the threat he represents though the ending of this episode has me concerned. Reality is rewritten again so that Oliver and Barry are wanted criminals who have also attracted the attention of a black suited Superman. This could be a fun idea but also feels like a distraction from the story that should now be the entire focus.
A strong episode that delivers a compelling version of Gotham City and acts as an excellent introduction for Batwoman. Kate Kane is already a fascinating character who already feels like she belongs in her own show. Ruby Rose brings her to life with a strong presence backed up by well written material that implies much of her backstory though subtext. She remains enigmatic for the purposes of this episode and definitely has a lot of potential to be explored in her own show should it appear. Her main connection is with Kara with a fun partnership being set up between the two characters that deserves to be given time to develop. The field trip to Gotham allows for some fun Batman references and establishes the city as being distinct from the other locations that the shows take place in. It’s full of character and definitely feels lived in. Barry and Oliver’s body switching story continues to be interesting enough especially when they are exposed to Scarecrow’s Fear Toxin and end up hallucinating the enemy of the other. OIiver takes on Eobard Thawne and Barry takes on Malcolm Merlyn as they are actually fighting each other. This allows them to come to a shared realisation that the life of the other isn’t what they thought it was. In Oliver’s case he realises that Barry’s life isn’t as easy as he assumed it was and Barry starts to appreciate the depth of Oliver’s pain. It may not linger for long but it’s a step forward in their friendship.
This episode spends more time establishing Gotham City and Batwoman than it does furthering the plot of the crossover. Some information comes out but it acts as a subplot when it should really be the main focus by this point. Mentions of the upcoming Crisis, details of the Monitor’s plan and the appearance of the 90s version of The Flash should have been far more significant than they were. 90s Flash is removed from the story almost as quickly as he enters it which is unquestionably a missed opportunity to fully integrate this version into the Arrowverse. The lack of time spent on the larger story might not bode well going into the final episode because it’s unlikely that there’s enough time to bring it to a satisfying conclusion especially since reality has been rewritten to deliver a black suited Superman at the end of this episode rather than making a point of attending to the implied stakes of the situation. It also doesn’t help that time is spent on the Oliver/Felicity relationship along with the unnecessary angst established in the most recent episode of Arrow. I’m hopeful that the finale of this story will pull it back and deliver a satisfying conclusion.
- an atmospheric version of Gotham City that feels lived in
- Ruby Rose delivering an excellent version of Kate Kane
- Batwoman’s excellent introduction
- Kate and Kara’s effortless connection
- well placed Batman references
- Barry and Oliver gaining a greater understanding of each other after facing villains common to the other
- wasting time on the Oliver/Felicity angst
- relegating the Monitor’s plan and everything associated with it to a subplot
- the rapid and unceremonious departure of 90s Flash
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