Some spinoffs attempt to distance themselves from their parent shows as quickly as possible or only start airing after the parent show has concluded, naturally separating themselves from the show that helped create them. The Flash is clearly not one of those series as “All Star Team Up” marks the third cross-over installment we’ve seen from the show this season, and while it’s not The Flash’s finest hour it’s still an episode that’s quite a bit of fun thanks to the enlivening appearance of both Felicity Smoak and Ray Palmer. It’s also a natural fit for the series as superhero stories are pretty much custom built to weave in and out of one another and cross-overs are just par for the course when it comes to DC and Marvel comics.
It’s not something that’s useful all the time, but it’s a good way to both remind the viewer that this is a world populated by more than just the main cast while also taking advantage of the new perspective that outside characters can bring to the series. Here, it’s primarily an opportunity to inject characters into a new milieu and watch how they fit in. Rather than having the visiting characters clash with the main cast tonally, The Flash has the two most readily integratable cast members drop by. Felicity and Ray are easily the most light hearted of Team Arrow which means they fit right in on The Flash, even if Felicity notes several times that things in Central City seem way more mopey than usual.
That mopiness is being caused thanks to a couple things, primarily the fact that Barry knows Dr. Wells isn’t what he seems and is unable to decide whether or not he should tell Cisco and Caitlin about this fact. Dr. Wells’ duplicitous nature is weighing on Barry and that manifests in prickly fashion as the upbeat Felicity can’t quite reconcile the sadder, more angry Barry she runs into with the man she’s known up to this point. It’s material that works, but only up to a point. As Felicity pointed out, Central City’s supposed to be the fun side of the equation, and while that doesn’t mean that things have to be sunny at all times, it can be frustrating when the show drops into the more mournful arena for extended periods of time, and “All Star Team Up” has more than its share of morose material.
Barry’s frustrations are reasonable and relatable, Dr. Wells is the big villain of the season so it’s natural to spend time dwelling on just what kind of havoc and emotional distress his actions will cause, but when the episode pairs that distress with a lot of relationship drama bubbling up between Eddie and Iris it tips the scales too far to the wrong side. Eddie and Iris’ relationship has always been a problem for the show and this episode hinges all of their material on the fact that Eddie now knows Barry’s secret identity and has been sworn to secrecy. Said secrecy is driving a wedge into their relationship and that cues a whole lot of self-righteous Iris and blandly sad Eddie. Basically, it’s dull material that saps the fun out of potentially enjoyable scenes. (The dinner sequence is an out and out disaster that even the comic charms of Emily Bett Rickards and Brandon Routh can’t come close to saving.)
What works in this episode are the sequences that let the characters have fun rather than miring them in plodding, underwritten emotional material. Ray Palmer’s a perfect addition to the series and his jovial relationship with Cisco is exactly what one would expect. Nerdy, overly-excited, and full of joy about the gadgetry they’re both so invested in. That relationship pays off in the climax of the episode as Palmer takes the action heavy lead, utilizing his Cisco-tweaked A.T.O.M. suit to combat the swarm of robotic bees that have been sent after Dr. McGee by the week’s villain, Brie Larvin. Palmer’s depiction fares better here than it did in his last outing on Arrow. Where his suit’s more CGI heavy capabilities clashed with that show’s more practical action aesthetic it’s right at home on The Flash which is already well within the CGI arena each and every week.
It’s the right fit for the sequence and it’s a new spin on the show’s depiction of powers which makes it just a little bit more exciting than it probably should be. The very fact that the episode is a cross-over helps the climax pop, even as it’s brought about by a largely forgettable plot that does almost nothing to develop the villain. Brie Larvin receives roughly no screen time and Emily Kinney doesn’t get a chance to invest any kind of emotion or pathos into the character. While there’s a brief attempt to tie her sense of betrayal at being fired by Dr. McGee earlier in her career to Barry’s disillusionment with Dr. Wells’ the material doesn’t get anywhere near enough time to play for it to actually land.
It’s the one big downside to bringing Ray and Felicity on board this week, the episode has to use them, and while they’re a fun punch in the arm that gives The Flash some energy at a point in its arc where it’s naturally more sedate the episode still has to devote time to them as well as all the main cast members. That means something else has to give, and that winds up being the episode’s ability to develop a compelling villain.
It’s disappointing that the cross-over doesn’t give the team a more exciting or memorable villain to fight, but the episode itself makes up for this fact simply by giving viewers the opportunity to watch Ray and Felicity interact with the core cast of The Flash. It’s the benefit of a tightly orchestrated universe like this one, characters can move between shows when necessary and allow both the parent and spinoff series the opportunity to play with new components and characters they wouldn’t have had a chance to try otherwise. The Flash and Arrow might have different outlooks, but they’re both still superhero shows and that means when one set of characters inevitably pops up elsewhere it doesn’t lead to worrying about conflicting aesthetics or storytelling ethos, it’s simply a sign that the viewer is about to be introduced to new areas the cross-over will allow the series to explore.