Crisis on Earth-X – Random Thoughts

The ambitious four-series crossover event, Crisis on Earth-X, is now in the books and it was everything I’d hoped it would be and more. It wasn’t perfect, but its more cinematic (and costly) siblings could do well to take some notes. As for me, I have a number of thoughts which I’m just going to randomly put down instead of trying to shoehorn them into some editorial theme. Here we go (be aware that while I watch all the shows, I am more Supergirl oriented that some):

Spoilers ahoy if you haven’t watched the four shows.

Fair warning.

Character, Character, Character

When I was but a wee screenwriter, having been nurtured on SF/F comics, books, TV, and movies, I, like many in a similar state, thought that plot was the essence of these sorts of stories. It took a couple of years of writing plus listening to people with more experience and an opposing viewpoint, to realize that good storytelling is always about characters first. Who people are, how they react to situations, their passions, their insecurities, their inconsistencies — these are what move plots forward. To force them to comply to arbitrary plot points is like trying to force a whole dry corn flake through a standard drinking straw — sure, you can do it, but what you get out doesn’t look much like a corn flake anymore.

What Crisis… did better than most team-up/ensemble movies (Avengers I and Guardians of the Galaxy I being notable exceptions) is let the characters be distinct and true to themselves. This allows for rich interactions when they are working with other characters whom they’ve never or rarely had to deal with. There’s a social negotiation, familiar to us all, as we size-up and evaluate those we need to have some level of relationship with.

The most obvious pairing was between Sara Lance and Alex Danvers. You have characters who are both different and similar. Alex basically betrays that having her world be centered around Kara has left her ill-equipped when placed outside of her comfort zone. Sara, on the other hand, has gained a couple of lifetimes worth of experience while trying to adapt and survive. And yet, they share a common history of loving their sisters and having endured the unpredictable shoals of loves. Once all of these character traits are stirred up, it’s Sara who gets to be the voice of reason Alex immediately listens to. They are so much more than a cliched one-night-stand.

The other intershow tête-à-têtes were also well-balanced. Even something so subtle as Oliver hugging Alex without hesitation but fist-bumping Kara says a lot about how comfortable Ollie feels about this overpowered alien from another Earth (her comment of “gross” upon discovering der Führer and Overgirl were married likely didn’t help).

Eobard

Eobard Thawne is a curious outlier. He is without a doubt the most comic-booky villain across all the shows. No matter how many times he is killed, he always comes back (sometimes several of him). His motivations here are, however, rather sketchy. In Flash season 1, it made sense. He needed Barry to get him back home, and so trained him despite their being nemeses. With Crisis…, I’m still scratching my head as to why he’d travel to Earth-X and what his ultimate reward was. Other than the perk of getting to spar with Barry, and maybe quelling some nascent desire to be a Nazi surgeon, his journey doesn’t make much sense. Though always a delightful guest villain, there wasn’t a lot of story meat on him this go round. It also made it hard to tell exactly where he was in the triumvirate’s hierarchy.

Boom!

The Overgirl explosion was described by Curtis as being able to destroy the entire midwestern U.S. We saw that the actual near-space explosion was massive. How big was it? Using various nuclear blast calculators, and giving the midwest a conservative size of 1,600 km (1,000 mi) — or 800 km in radius, the minimum equivalent size of the explosion seems to be 30,000 megatons (30 gigatons) — which would mostly produce thermal destruction; i.e. 3rd degree burns and the like. If we aim for more direct destruction, an optimal airburst detonation would be 1,600,000 megatons (1.6 tetratons). By way of comparison, the largest nuclear weapon ever detonated was the Tsar Bomba at a mere 50 megatons. Important note to self: don’t let Supergirl absorb an excess of solar radiation. It would be bad.

Die rote Sonne

I was a little annoyed with Kara’s incapacitation under red sunlight (simulated). This is hardly the first time she’s been de-powered, either via red sun exposure or “solar flare”, so it’s not something that’s unfamiliar. And yet here she’s weak as a kitten. Sure, Eobard Mengele might have injected something into her to keep her from flailing about — mustn’t risk damaging that precious heart after all — but that wasn’t made explicit (the hypo insert looked more like a test than an injection). I’m still wondering at what point did she finally get exposed to yellow sunlight and for how long. Iris and Felicity were going to take an elevator to expose her to…the night? Unless there was a full Moon, I don’t think that was going to do much good, and even then hardly at all. Also, in her weakened state, getting a full Kryptonite blast from Metallo can’t have helped.

Felicity, FTW!

Coming in, you had to know that either Felicity or Stein was going to have a moment of righteous anti-Nazi anger. I’m glad it was Felicity as she did it so well. She doesn’t get a lot of respect from the larger fandom, but standing up with no hesitation as a shield for Kara, someone she only knows casually, knowing the likely arrow-tipped outcome, is not just heroic but valorous.

As a side note: Nazi prisoner Felicity was no less heroic. If she survives and makes it to the freedom fighters, she’ll be fierce.

Felicity, WTF?!

And then she interrupts Barry and Iris’ matrimonial finale for no good reason. Now, I love Felicity. She’s the main reason I still watch Arrow (the Olicity thing…like them as friends, sort of take-it-or-leave-it for the rest). But gee…you can’t wait five seconds to let your friends be pronounced and smooch one time before jumping in with matrimonial improvisation? And then the proposal isn’t exactly Running Home to You — more like: “Stuff keeps happening, we might as well.” Nope. Nope nope nope.

It was the biggest stumble of the crossover. Even so, it’s still lightyears ahead of the “Martha” WTFfest of a movie which shall not be named. Still, a couple of minutes at the keyboard keeps it from being a thing.

Plummet

Something I liked was Supergirl’s plummet back to Earth after Overgirl went nova. Kara probably got her to space, where she isn’t exactly at her best, breathing-wise. Assuming she was under the blast, she should have been shot back down. I confess I haven’t done the math, but it doesn’t seem unreasonable to assume her initial velocity was such that she wouldn’t necessarily slow down to terminal velocity — which at under 200 km/h is well within her comfort zone. I wasn’t a big fan of her stop, though.

Nate catching her didn’t work for me on a few levels. First, he’s had little-to-no interaction with her so “saving” her by catching her in his arms felt condescending — like Supergirl needed a big strong man to save her. Second, the man-of-steel line was pathetic — again, something a minute at the keyboard would have solved. Third, caught or not, that crater (or at least the dust-and-debris cloud) should have been bigger given her meteoric arrival. Forth, the smaller points of contact from arms versus the larger one by the ground would be more jarring. Fifth, it would have worked so much better had Alex been the one to help her out of the Supergirl-sized divot — sisters looking after sisters.

This was yet one more instance of Supergirl getting knocked out, but this time it was a blast worthy enough to do so — not that weak-assed rocket Corben shot at her in S2E1.

Eat, Drink, and Be Rory

While we’ve had a lot of chuckles and guffaws at Rory’s single-minded pursuit of food and drink, it feels like the joke has run its course. Maybe he could pick up a new hobby — knitting, perhaps? With Firestorm sidelined for the time being, I’d like to see him get his Chronos on and step up a little.

Metallo

I definitely wasn’t expecting the kryptonite-hearted cyborg. It’s good they put him in, though. Without Metallo, the Nazis were defeated pretty much every time. Overgirl, in her arguably weakened state, was no match for Supergirl. Metallo was more than enough to take her out of the equation — especially when she was caught by surprise.

I thought the gaggle of heroes attacking and ultimately destroying Metallo was instructive. The supers can each defeat him without help (after a fashion and some good fortune), but it took a whole lot of firepower to overwhelm the machine. So now we have a baseline of what the Earth-1 folk need to do to maybe slow down the Girl of Steel if she goes off the rails a little.

Still not sure how I feel about the terminator-like visage. It not being Corben is great, and being more based on the comics version is also great. Still…kind of chromey.

Dampening

OK, I’ve accepted that most places with metas have some sort of meta-power-dampening device. On Earth-X it’s a fetching necklace and shock collar. That’s a given. But why did it work on Kara? She’s not a meta and doesn’t carry the meta gene. It shouldn’t work on her at all. Sure, there are low-level Kryptonite dampeners on Earth-38, but here Kara’s necklace glowed blue just like everyone else’s (in case you’re wondering, blue kryptonite is the one used against Bizarros just as green kryptonite is used here).

Firestorm

Yep. I cried. More than once.

If you don’t care about the characters, killing them off doesn’t generally affect the audience. This death, did. That it wasn’t trivialized helped. Both Jax and Stein were given the respect they needed and which the audience deserved. My only possible complaint was that it caused the pacing of the story to stumble a bit in the final installment and made some of the transitions a little jarring. It had been breakneck and then it scratch-stopped to deal with everyone close to Stein having time to feel. Sometimes you just have to.

I wouldn’t be surprise if, at some point, the Legends travel to the future and little Ronnie Stein (or whatever his last name is) becomes Jax’ other half, given that he likely has the Firestorm gene.

Nazis

There have never been better or more clear-cut villains than Nazis. Had these genocidal, racist f***heads not actually existed in real life, fiction would have created them. There is nothing redeeming about them and you can kill them at will for the greater good. And they always come with controversy.

Because of the political leanings in the U.S. and other countries tilting decidedly to the right in recent times, there is concern by some that putting Nazis in an entertainment show somehow normalizes, glorifies, or trivializes them. I’m a boomer. I grew up with older people who lived, fought, killed, and survived the actual Nazis lead by that moron with silly hair and the evil murders and profiteers who willingly followed him. Needless to say, I don’t have a good opinion about those swastika-wearing bastards. These aren’t just some characters in some history books I had to study for a test, these are, to me, part of my living history.

I’ve also had the benefit of living for a while. WWII was just two decades past when I was  young and watching the POW camp comedy, Hogan’s Heroes, when it first aired. I also watched many shows from Britain that satirized and made clowns of Nazis. These and more populated my media experience. And guess what? No matter how silly or scary, not one of them ever gave the impression that Nazis were simply misunderstood. No…they were fuckin’ Nazis.

So, did I or do I have a problem with them using Nazis as superhero punching bags and targets? Hell no. If anything, it’s important that the world not forget about how evil things can be. Far from trivializing, this crossover was a reminder of why we need heroes — or to be our own as necessary. (Again, kudos to Felicity.)

Frost

If any episode is going to start to forge a reconciliation between Caitlin and Frost, it’s this one. They were switching back and forth a lot with hardly a quibble from either one of them about the other. It’s not a complete merge, not yet at least. But it’s a start. Next step is for there to be some connection between the two inside their shared noggin, a la Firestorm.

The Kryptonite Arrow

I know a lot of fans were waiting for this. Me, not so much. I’ve always thought it was a bit of a dick move regardless if it’s done by Batman or Green Arrow. But I guess that’s just personal taste.

My first issue with this is: when the heck did Oliver learn that kryptonite could hurt Kryptonians? I don’t think Kara mentioned it, and I’m not sure she told Barry, either. Following that, where did he find kryptonite? Even if he knew what it could do, he still doesn’t know what it looks like. And, even if he did find some, there are no known Kryptonians living on Earth-1 to ensure it worked. So, a whole lot of doesn’t-make-a-lot-of-sense fanservice here.

Personally, I wanted Alex to rip Oliver a new one for developing a weapon that, as far as he knew, was meant solely to kill one person — her sister. Again…dick move, Oliver. Besides, it didn’t even work. If not for Supergirl doing the freezy-breath thing in the nick of time, Overgirl would have sent that arrow right back to its archer.

 Dressing For The Occassion

Kara and Alex wore several different outfits. Just how many clothes did they bring? From the Supergirl episode, it looked like they were going to portal through in just PJs and robes. We later find they have daywear, receptionwear, weddingwear, fightingNaziwear, and goingbacktoEarth38wear. That’s a lot to pack.

And I’m also going to moan a little about “suiting up”. Usually it’s pretty innocuous (props to Zari’s new duds), but a couple of things still irk me. For Barry, the transition of his cowl between the limp “hood” and the new, slightly larger (in appearance if not fact) helmet is a little stark. There really isn’t a better way I can think of so far (though I’d prefer a smaller helmet), but the scene cut always distracts me.

Similarly, Supergirl’s crest reveal. Why? For someone who can near-instantly change, why go through the button-popping? It also looks a little silly when you just pull open your blouse and then hold it there without, you know, actually continuing to take off your blouse. On a secondary issue, wearing the leotard, if not the muscle suit, under her clothing is amazingly obvious and raises the question: what is she doing with the suit when she isn’t dressed in long sleeves and slacks? And what about the cape, in any case?

Sorry, I know the Flash and Supergirl things are trivial, but I just always notice them.

I just noticed what the new cut of Sara’s uniform reminds me of. Her evolution has been from corseted decolletage to a slow morph, via the collar points, toward Power Girl’s boob window. Huh.

And lest I be remiss, I have to give thumbs up to Overgirl’s suit. It was an outstanding design. I don’t think it translates well to primary colors, but in the realm of evil it works well.

Pixel Heroes

When you consider TV budgets, the FX for these shows in general and the crossover specifically have been pretty darned good this season. There were a lot of close doppelgänger shots with few artificial separations — the green screen and compositing were really on-point. Kudos for the actors and crew who had to double up the usual number of shots to make those happen.

Red Tornado has never looked better (which, considering how awful the Supergirl S1 Red Tornado was doesn’t exactly sound like high praise). Especially in the muted light, it made for a convincing rendering of the character. And speaking of convincing renderings — the Flash running effect during the RT sequence was the best yet. Outstanding job.

On the Supergirl side, the addition of the thunderclap (or whatever we end up calling it) was a happy surprise. I have to assume that was one of the tricks Kal showed (or told) Kara during their pre-Rhea sparring. Kara stumbling after it does make me wonder if it is so taxing to do, or also has an effect on her, that it’s not for everyday use. Then again, she might still have been reeling from being thrown into the church.

Metallo isn’t quite there, yet. While much better than the T-800 in the original Terminator movie, it has a little of that stop-motion/mo-cap feel to it. Not terrible but still uncanny valley. Also on this list is the CG Green Arrow. It obviously doesn’t get the weekly care and attention that the powered characters do (especially the leads), and it showed. The rigging of the armature didn’t really stand up to scrutiny as it swung around the building’s girders. Again, not terrible but a little uncanny valley.

Body Counts

Alex surprised me a bit. While she’s never been very hesitant about killing when necessary, it seemed like all safeties were off when it came to Nazis. She was shooting them often, point blank, in the head, and with complete abandon. Sara seemed positively genteel in comparison. Oliver was almost as methodical, but those hit with arrows, especially at distance, still probably fared better than those in Alex’s sights.

In contrast, the powered folk tended to avoid going for the kills — though some incidental collateral damage likely occurred. Obviously Barry letting Eobard go underscored this mindset.

The One Rule About Set Pieces….

Every episode had at least one major fighting set piece. That alone is remarkable when you consider the limited time you have to pull these off (admittedly helped by long shots allowing generous use of stunt people and second-unit plus CG). If I’m being honest, I have to say that I think I might have been happier with a little less, but I definitely didn’t want to have more — certainly not more of just hitting and shooting Nazis (fun as that is). The Supergirl/Overgirl fights were all lovely dances on (mostly) air, and the Flash/Reverse Flash battle taking place so fast that the rest of the world stood still was exactly what you’d hope it would be. The powered JL-caliber folk help to elevate the complex choreography of battle into a spectacle.

So Much Thanks

This was a remarkable achievement that can only happen when everyone involved is committed to doing it right. As I understand it, the actors were doing this over the course of six weeks while they were also working on their own shows. (Now you have your answer why the shows all had episodes that were low-budget and minimal suited-up lead-hero.) I also hear that the principals would rather next’s year’s event just be scheduled for shooting like a movie. Sounds like this pushed everyone a little further than they were happy with — though they are happy with the result. I don’t blame them. Leads of action shows work harder than many people assume, and folding in a 2-hour, 45-minute feature film (what this equivalently was) over six weeks on top of that is asking a lot.

And that’s just the actors. Think of all of the crew who arrive earlier than actors to set up and leave later to break down. You have all that extra stunt work to do. The digital folks have a massive amount of material to weave and create in just a few weeks as opposed to half a year or more for a feature. And they did it all on a TV budget as well.

For me, and on behalf of all the fans who enjoyed this who aren’t publicly vocal, I have to thank everyone on all the shows, the studio, and the network for pulling this off. It was amazing.

As For My Predictions…

Yeah, I didn’t think I was going to do that great. It’s never good to predict stuff before you see the spoilers, y’know? But I’d be remiss if I didn’t own up to them.

  • Alex is probably Kara’s +1 for the wedding.

Yeah, this one was pretty much a gimme. I figured I should stack the deck so I didn’t end up on the schneid.

  • I wouldn’t be surprised if Kara is captured so that Overgirl gets her share of Supergirl’s screen time.

Yes, Kara was captured, but I thought this would happen in Arrow so that Overgirl would be featured at Supergirl’s expense. Instead they were both available pretty much equally.

  • Is Kara tortured/experimented on to learn Overgirl secrets? (I’m crossing Nazi universes here, but discovery requires experimentation).

Again, a clear miss. Sure, Eobard Mengele was more than happy to cut into Kara without benefit of anesthetic to either of them, but it didn’t match her being tortured or experimented upon.

  • I suspect Alex is most useful because she, more than anyone here, knows Kryptonian weaknesses. (Will heat vision/fear control be a factor?)

I’m going to call this close enough for partial credit as Alex is the one who recognized the solar radiation signature from Overgirl’s blood. Sadly, that was about as far as it went.

  • Oliver will be tapped as team leader because that’s what you do. Sara will be the leader of a smaller, possibly infiltration group that includes Alex and at least one of the totem-wielders.

I want to give myself a partial on this, but no…just not obviously independently infiltrationy enough.

  • Killer Frost will be a reluctant ally, not so much because she loves her friends but more because she likes her Earth as-is (sort of “no one picks on my sister except for me” attitude).

Clear miss. Frost seemed to be more than willing to come out when called. No whinging, no opportunistic grabs for self-identity. Feels like an opportunity missed.

  • Some of the non-powered people are bound to get captured. That’s their job, after all.

Shoot, pretty much everyone not Rory or on the Legends mission got captured at least once.

  • Overgirl and Reverse Flash will probably be kickin’ some team Arrowverse ass for the first 2/3 of the crossover — they are too OP and have the luxury of prior planning. (It’s always possible, I suppose, that [Reverse Flash] is with the resistance and acts as a double agent.)

I’m going to call this a miss. Not because the heroes didn’t end up on the short end of the stick, but it wasn’t for nearly as long as I thought or directly because of the above villains.

  • For once, Barry will now be able to hold his own(-ish) against a speedster after having spent a lifetime in the speed force.

I’m going to say yay on this. Once again, Barry did have the upper vibrating hand on the Reverse Flash.

  • Amaya’s experience with the JSA fighting Nazis, combined with Nate’s knowledge of the era, will help provide a tactical edge once Oliver deigns to listen to them.

Total miss. Even Stein failed to mention their direct experience with 1940s Nazis. Another wasted opportunity, I think.

  • Killer Frost may get some hero-schooling from Citizen Cold. They’ll probably be frenemies but with a shared affection of all things cold.

Another complete miss. The focus was on Caitlin, not Frost. Oh well.

  • Stein’s final adventure as half of Firestorm? Earth-saving is a younger person’s game after all.

Got one. I will admit that I thought he was going to retire and be a granddad and not end up all dead (who kills characters in a crossover), but I wasn’t brave enough to be that specific.

  • The Atom will make a goof and then have a critical tech role (with Mr. Terrific) to play in the endgame.

While the Atom did save Kara and Curtis did calculate the Overgirl blast damage, I don’t think either rates as even a partial credit.

  • Will there be an argument about whether it’s OK to kill Nazis? Or doppelgängers?

Again, no. Pretty much Nazis are OK to kill, no discussion required.

  • Freeing Kara (by Sara’s group?) will be the tipping point of battle. Her taking on Overgirl allows everyone else to finally gain the upper hand.

I’ll give myself a partial as this was pretty much a gimme in any case. The only way to take care of the OP pieces on the game board is to have them deal with each other.

  • Barry and Iris probably end up getting married. Could be a reset of the beginning or it could be ad hoc with probably one of the Legends doing the officiating.

Partial. Married yes but Diggle had the honor.

  • Good guys win without anyone getting seriously killed. (I’m really going out on a limb with this one.)

I thought this was a given. How very wrong I was.

So…how did I do? Out of 17 possible points, I calculate I’m around 5.5 — not even passing. If I were a padder, I could probably fudge a few more points, but that would be cheating. C’est la vie.

And I think that covers most everything. If something else comes to mind, I’m sure I’ll post about it somewhere.

Khao-shuh

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