“What have you done this time, Barry?”
The Arrowverse kicked off its “Elseworlds” crossover with a body-swap (for lack of a better term) adventure on The Flash that was a fun prelude to what seems to be a darker story ahead. That “fun” aspect was in-keeping with one of the key takeaways from the episode, as “Elseworlds, Part 1” offered a surprisingly introspective look at the Flash and Arrow shows and title characters.
Bookended by hints at a larger conflict involving The Monitor (LaMonica Garrett) and Arkham Asylum psychiatrist Dr. John Deegan (Jeremy Davies), “Elseworlds, Part 1” was primarily interested in exploring the inherently silly identity switch premise at the center of the episode. Seeing Oliver and Barry having to live each others’ lives was as delightful as it sounds on paper, though kicking the story off in this way didn’t add as much gravity to the crossover as previous Arrowverse events have done.
Fortunately, that switcheroo storyline (far more Quantum Leap than Freaky Friday, as Barry says) was not only the high point of this episode but also this season. The Flash writers rightly poked a lot of fun at the state of the Arrowverse shows, from Oliver teasing Barry for just how overwrought and sensitive The Flash storylines often get to Barry’s glee at getting to easily ascend the salmon ladder. The look on Oliver’s face when Cisco referred to touch as Barry’s “love language” was priceless, and it’s clear that the cast had as much fun leaning into the premise as we did consuming it.
There was one especially great beat leaning into this when Barry observed Oliver going to have a stereotypical Barry/Iris emotional heart-to-heart over a glass of wine, and director Kevin Tancharoen chose to film that scene at first like an outsider looking into one of these familiar Flash scenes from afar. Those small elements helped elevate this episode beyond your standard The Flash fare.
But by design or not, that body-swap storyline completely overshadowed everything else “Elseworlds, Part 1” was out to accomplish. With the next part of the crossover on Arrow taking the audience to Gotham City and introducing Ruby Rose’s Batwoman, there was surprisingly slim set up to whatever is happening in the wider universe that The Monitor says these heroes can’t stop. We got about as much information about what is coming in the Earth-90 scene at the end of The Flash’s 100th episode as we did from The Monitor giving the Book of Destiny to Dr. Deegan, which made “Elseworlds, Part 1” feel a bit slight.
Still, the good far outweighed anything disappointing about this episode (though Sherloque’s brief third ex-wife aside to Superman was eye-roll inducing). In addition to the body swap A-storyline, we finally got to meet Bitsie Tulloch’s Lois Lane and got some quality time with her and Superman, which absolutely lived up to expectations. Small touches like introducing the Kent Farm scenes with the Smallville theme song made it clear that this episode, again, was supposed to be fun, and that the creative team had a blast making it. “Elseworlds, Part 1” extended its self-deprecating humor to Supergirl as well, with Lois calling Clark out for his questionable ethics in journalism since he writes Superman stories about himself.
For all that Supergirl (and Superman) were drawn into the story, the focus was much more on Barry and Oliver, and since this crossover is designed as something of a standalone, “Elseworlds, Part 1” pressed pause on both of their respective series’ storylines enough to psychoanalyze their respective emotional journeys (we see you using Iris to give Oliver some unintended Felicity advice, Flash writers). The key resolution, if that’s what it can be called, for the body swap problem was Barry and Oliver embracing each others’ personalities, which meant Oliver needed to have more fun and be warmer and Barry needed to embrace his dark side. It was a bit ironic to have that be the emotional crux of “Part 1” considering Oliver teased Barry for that exact element of The Flash earlier in this episode. And for all that Iris seemed concerned that this might lead to a permanent impact on Barry’s personality, I can’t help but feel that’s going to be something the Arrowverse forgets ever happened several episodes down the road.
Similarly, “Elseworlds, Part 1” had little to nothing to do with any of The Flash supporting cast with the limited exceptions of Iris and Cisco. Doing a poor job integrating them into the story beyond a superficial sense underlined how out of character it was that they betrayed Barry and locked him and Oliver up instead of considering the possibility that their two superhero allies would be telling the truth (which hardly seems like a stretch, considering how much craziness they’ve had to deal with up until now).
The Flash supporting cast was mostly there to move along the B-storyline of Amazo attacking Central City, which played as a standard villain-of-the-week showdown because so much time was dedicated to the Barry/Oliver part of the episode. Yes, it was a good excuse to force Barry and Oliver to embrace their switched superhero identities and powers, but it was a pretty short first fight for Superman, Supergirl, The Flash, and Green Arrow to all participate in together (especially since it was directed by Tancharoen, who has helmed some fantastic superhero fights across Agents of SHIELD, The Flash and Arrow in the past). As Supergirl noted, they were basically able to take him down on the first try, though it definitely was incredibly cool to finally see those four heroes fighting side-by-side — who would have thought we would get here when Arrow first debuted six years ago?
The sidelined villain underscored the fact that the actual events of this episode are only a prelude for more interesting things to come, which may be an inevitable side effect of this being “Part 1” of a three-part crossover event.
Editor’s note: Jesse Schedeen was unable to review this week’s episode of The Flash, so IGN editorial manager Terri Schwartz reviewed it in his stead.