Last night’s excellent “Flash Vs. Arrow” probably had the easier of the two jobs for The CW’s big crossover event. After all, like its hero, The Flash is newer, its potentially unlimited power only constrained by its lack of experience. Both Barry and his show are at a point where they still have much to learn from the network’s more established superhero outfit; Oliver, as The CW’s ranking crime-fighter, can dispense wisdom and be swooned over by Iris West without it feeling like The Flash is bending over backward to flatter its special guest star. Besides, “Flash Vs. Arrow” got to pull out one of the trustiest weapons in the superhero crossover arsenal: The mind control-fueled showdown between two otherwise heroic allies. Taken together, The Flash half of the crossover was well positioned to make both casts look good without seriously risking Oliver overshadowing Barry; yes, he might have more romantic success with Iris after a two-line exchange than Barry has in over 20 years, but still! The Flash has powers, and that’s enough to keep his special status secure, even when his rage-induced mania meant he had to temporarily cede hero duties to the visiting vigilante.
By contrast, “The Brave And The Bold” has to hit a much narrower target. There’s a far greater risk that the superpowered Barry could upstage Oliver on the latter’s home turf, and this episode has to build a conflict between the two that hinges not on scrambled emotional cores but rather legitimate philosophical disagreements. The episode joins The Flash as a whole in celebrating Barry’s lighter, more straightforwardly heroic approach to fighting crime, but it still has to find room to affirm just why Oliver is important, even inspiring in his own right. Basically, “The Brave And The Bold” has to come up with a way for Oliver to learn something from Barry without implying that there’s something wrong with Arrow as a whole.
The thing is, of course, there might actually be a little something wrong with this season of Arrow, a topic we’ve covered in previous reviews. This is a season still struggling to figure out what its larger story is, and it’s cycled through a bit more navel-gazing angst from Oliver and company than is perhaps strictly necessary. (Make no mistake: A certain amount of navel-gazing angst is damn near essential to all that Arrow is. But the third season has maybe gone slightly overboard in stretches.) The arrival of Barry and his friends from STAR Labs provides a temporary fix to both of those issues: This episode doesn’t have to worry about the larger narrative when it can just cut loose and have some fun for an hour, and Barry is one of the only characters able to call Oliver out on his more mopey strains of bullshit. Put simply, “The Brave And The Bold” is fun, and it’s effortlessly fun in a way that we haven’t necessarily seen this season.
Crossovers like this are an inherently goofy proposition, as they are essentially an opportunity for the two superhero teams to congratulate each other on how cool they are: Sure, it’s entirely in character for Cisco to find the Arrow Cave the most awesome thing ever, but that doesn’t make it any less self-indulgent to devote quite so much time to him singing Arrow’s praises. But who cares? Arrow sure doesn’t, and that—I’m being completely honest here—is more than good enough for me! Roy is actually essential here, as he’s got all the moodiness of his mentor Oliver without quite the same commitment to being serious all the time. When Roy admits it’s fun to have Cisco around, that doubles as the show giving us all permission to relax and enjoy the silliness. This side of the crossover wouldn’t work if Arrow itself weren’t prepared to loosen up; Oliver isn’t an ideal candidate to do that, so Roy steps in nicely.
At the same time, “The Brave And The Bold” is clever in how it uses the attack on Lyla as an opportunity to confront Cisco and Caitlin with the often grim reality of their chosen lives. It’s easy enough to say that The Flash has a lighter tone than Arrow, but it’s only at the nightclub that the shows spell out just what that means. The pair’s observations are dead on: For all the horror that Central City’s metahumans have unleashed so far on The Flash, the manner in which they do so has been ridiculous enough to maintain some sense of separation, to keep up the illusion that this is all just a grand silly adventure where it’s appropriate to give villains fun codenames. Cisco’s later conversation with Roy and Diggle, in which he suggests the superpowered Flash came into existence in order to fight all the crazy that already threatens the world, is an intriguing complication of that idea. Yes, supervillains inflict enough real-world damage that they must be taken seriously, yet the insanity they represent can only be met sensibly with a hero capable of finding the lighter path. Maybe that breeds some obliviousness, even callousness, but “The Brave And The Bold” is smart enough to validate both teams’ approaches.
Crucial to all this is Digger Harkness, the future Captain Boomerang. Like Wentworth Miller’s Captain Cold, the character proves a hugely successful adaptation of the comics character, leaving aside Nick Tarabay’s vague stab at an Australian accent. The episode makes his boomerangs just high-tech enough to make their deadliness plausible while still leaving them recognizable as, well, boomerangs. He proves more than a match for the combined Flash and Arrow, supplementing his deadly aim with an intellect capable of keeping both heroes on the defensive. The climax is particularly well judged on that score, as Captain Boomerang’s bomb threat would appear insoluble to anyone who does not have both the powers and the perspective of Barry. After all, only he would think to call upon his friends to help save the day—that doesn’t feel like the kind of move Oliver would make, even if he did have the same powers—and he sure as hell is the only person capable of pulling it off.
Yet as good as this episode makes the Flash look, this is still Oliver’s show. In perhaps the episode’s best, funniest line, he admits he’s not quite as emotionally balanced as Barry, and that shines through in the final confrontation with Digger Harkness. He has humanity enough to not kill the man who tried to kill his friend’s wife (she’s not his wife!), but he still can’t resist putting one extra arrow in the bastard, just for good measure. But this goes back to what Oliver and Lyla were talking about, and why it’s so fitting that this episode would share the name—“The Brave And The Bold”—with DC Comics’ long-running team-up comic. The Flash is the brave one, the hero who inspires with his courage, even if his more simplistic sense of right and wrong occasionally leads to him and his team overlooking the darker side of what they do. Oliver is the bold one, the hero who is willing to do whatever it takes to see justice served. Does he sometimes cross the line? It would be impossible for him to spend so much time on that line without occasionally falling over, and Digger Harkness has the extra arrow wound to prove it. But you need a hero like the Arrow to have the guts to start the war with all the world’s crazy, even if you do still want the Flash to take up that fight eventually. And if the Oliver can learn even a little from Barry, he might just manage to hang onto his humanity through all the darkness still to come.
- I kind of wish Thea’s entire appearance was just the Flash zooming past her as she chatted with her DJ maybe-boyfriend. That said, Roy and Felicity’s reactions to Cisco’s inquiries were pretty great in their own right.
- I will never get tired of Arrow throwing in references to legendary DC Comics writers, and sending our heroes to the intersection of Infantino and Adams is right up there.