After seven episodes that have ranged from groundbreaking to groanworthy, the first half of the long-awaited crossover event of The Flash and Arrow aired on The CW on Tuesday night. The Flash has been a surprising hit for The CW, bringing in unprecedented numbers for a niche network in a genre that only a few years ago would never have gotten on the air.
Much of the credit for The Flash series’ very existence goes to its sister show Arrow, airing on Wednesday nights. Set in two neighboring cities in the same universe and already sharing characters, the two programs are nonetheless very different. Barry Allen is a cheerful hero with super speed who protects the people of the city out of the goodmess of his heart…and because it’s super fun for him. Oliver Queen is a brooding vigilante who fights to protect his city with carefully honed skills of archery and martial arts and no superpowers to help him in his mission. Where one smiles more often than frowns, the other’s default setting is an expression of barely contained rage. Barry’s Central City is peppered with colorful villains possessing powers gained by the same particle accelerator explosion that gave Barry his speed. Oliver’s Starling City is plagued by dirtier fighting, harsher criminals, and annual terrorist attacks come every May.
Fundamentally, the shows could hardly be more different. The prospect of a two-night crossover event between them had the potential to go very wrong.
The first installment was pretty great. “Flash vs. Arow” saw the arrival of Team Arrow—comprised of ex-soldier extraordinaire John Diggle, super hacker Felicity Smoak, and Oliver himself—in Central City pursuing a case of their own that involves a boomerang and will probably actually matter in the Arrow half of the crossover. Despite Oliver’s reservations, they agree to help Barry and Team Flash try to take down a man who can incite rage in innocent bystanders via mere eye contact. Overall, “Flash vs. Arrow” was a solid episode of a freshman series as it heads into its first hiatus. So, here is what worked, what didn’t, and what needs to happen next on The Flash.
What Worked: The biggest question of the Arrow/Flash crossover was whether or not the two very different groups of good guys could possibly mesh in a way that is entertaining rather than cringeworthy. Fortunately, the episode was able to combine Team Arrow and Team Flash in a way to stayed true to the characterization already established without marginalizing either. It was certainly more humorous than most episodes of Arrow, but Oliver’s older brother attitude toward superhero training with Barry softened the appearances of unexpected smiles, and Diggle’s baffled reaction to the superspeed was true to his established dislike of supernatural elements while Felicity fit right in with the scientists at Star Labs.
In addition to the successful meshing of the two groups, the episode highlighted some of the existing relationships within the shows. Barry’s clash with Caitlin was a long time coming, but his invoking of her (presumed) dead fiancé as the reason for her protectiveness stung viewers just as much as Caitlin. His interaction with Iris was more fun than in recent episodes, highlighting the friendship that both predates Barry’s feelings for her and exists in spite of his struggles with them. This was particularly necessary in “Flash vs. Arrow,” and not just because the pairing has been toeing the line of realism and melodrama for several episodes now. Rather, if the portrayal of their relationship has been any less genuine this week, the power couple and likely endgame romance of The Flash would have been completely outshone by the visiting potential endgame power couple Oliver and Felicity, who upped the adorable quotient of the episode by several degrees.
Felicity pulled a genuine happiness of out the usually dour Oliver in most of their interactions, and one must wonder if part of the reason why Iris found him so dreamy in their first scene together is because of how he tends to light up whenever he allows himself to enjoy Felicity’s presence. Sure, the body comprised of muscle and bone and a 0% body fat probably didn’t hurt, but his smile around his tech girl is something special to behold. For her part, Felicity was playing the perky wife to her begrudgingly cheerful husband in just about every way that does not involve sharing a bed or wearing a ring. They may not have been on their own show, but goshdarnit they were cute.
Of courses, Oliver didn’t spend all of his sceentime in “Flash vs. Arrow” pretending to be exasperated by Felicity. He donned the hood and took up the bow with as much effectiveness—and ruthlessness—as he does every night in his own city. Rather than portraying this as the status quo in the superhero game, however, The Flash goes out of its way to contrast his methods with those of the happy-go-lucky Barry. Joe reminds the Arrow audience and alerts the Flash fans that the Arrow was once the Hood, a vigilante whose murder spree across Starling marked him as more of a serial killer than hero. In this episode, Oliver procured information from a witness via the standard operating procedure of Arrow that Joe deemed torture, and even the scene successfully played for laughs in which Oliver shoots Barry in the back with a pair of crossbows is…kind of alarming. Neither show pretends than Oliver Queen is anything but not entirely stable, and the contrast compels.
In addition to giving an outside look at Oliver, the more experienced vigilante forced viewers to take a less complimentary look at the Scarlet Speedster, whose methods may be generally more humane than those of the Arrow, but are also so much sloppier that Barry feels much younger and more foolish than Oliver.
This isn’t actually a bad thing. Barry spent the first seven episodes of the series showing off what he could do and testing his capabilities while out in the field. He uses his Flashing superpowers to paint buildings and play Cupid, using his abilities in public in his civvies to ogle his best friend and steal his boss’s lunch. Lacking discipline, he has never known everything that he could do…and how much he can take. Oliver’s insistence that his own eight years of experience fighting impossible odds without powers and actually surviving go right over Barry’s head as he maintains his certainty that his superspeed will be enough to get him out of any scrape.
Luckily for the audience, their argument about skill vs. power became less theoretical and more physical by the climax as Oliver is forced to challenge Barry as Barry is driven out of control by the villain of the week. It’s an epic fight, and the Flash gets creative as he tries to both embarrass and defeat the Arrow. Barry gains the upper hand several times, but his hubris and penchant for quipping proves his downfall. Oliver uses Barry’s tactics against him, and he learns how to defeat his opponent even as he receives a pretty tough beating. Honestly, if Oliver had genuinely wanted to hurt Barry, he had several openings in which he could have done it. Cisco may insist that the battle was a tie, and this may be Barry’s show, but there have been few moments on The Flash as satisfying as seeing the Arrow catch the Flash’s fist in mid-air.
What Didn’t Work: Now, as both of these protagonists are heroes and Oliver is a good enough person to not take a few retaliatory kidney shots once Barry was effectively subdued, the two were reconciled enough to take down the bad guy as a team. The problem? We didn’t get to see it.
In fact, we didn’t see much of Roy G. Bivolo or his powers in “Flash vs. Arrow.” As much as the interactions of the members of Team Flash and Team Arrow were the highlights of the episode, the stakes would have felt higher if the villain had been more menacing. He used his rage-inducing ocular abilities to rob banks? The final confrontation happened entirely off-screen and without explanation? Team Flash was able to discover the exact pattern of light flashes needed to counteract the effects of his ability? Bivolo may have been a villain designed for the purpose of setting up the Flash vs. Arrow fight, but more time and attention paid to him would have leant a sense of urgency rather than contrivance to his part of the plot.
On the non-vigilante side of the story, the Barry/Iris/Flash aspect of the show’s love quadrangle continues to grow more and more uncomfortable. Neither party comes off well. Barry’s character in particular suffers as he uses his secret identity to try to drive a wedge between Iris and Eddie. In fact, Eddie—the man opposing our hero and for whom we should not be rooting—comes across as the only sympathetic party in the whole drama. This love quadrangle is admittedly more palatable than that of Season 1 of Arrow, but that’s not really saying much. Candice Patton is delightful as Iris, and her chemistry with both of her love interests is compelling enough, but the show really needs to figure out what it wants to do with her.
What Needs To Happen Next: The Flash has had a solid first season thus far, and there’s no reason to be anything but optimistic about the Arrow side of the crossover and next week’s midseason finale. Nevertheless, “Flash vs. Arrow” introduced a few problems that will need addressing.
First (and least likely), Iris needs to find out about Barry’s secret identity. Every episode that passes without somebody telling her the truth will make it that much worse for her once she does find out, and the show has not presented any convincing reason as to why she should not know. She does not need to turn into the next Laurel Lance, and keeping her in the dark week after week just makes all of the characters look bad. Besides, Barry’s vibrating Flash voice isn’t really all that different from his regular voice. At least Oliver has a voice modulator for talking to his friends.
We’ll also need to see that the lessons of “Flash vs. Arrow” stick with Barry rather than serving as a lesson of the week. As a character that has been more or less static since the premiere, he needs to grow and mature.
Similarly in need of expansion is Harrison Wells. So far, we know that he has access to knowledge of the future and has a sinister way of looking out for Barry. He gets about 30 seconds of ambiguous evilness at the end of most of the episodes, and we’ll need more to go on as the mythology of the series develops.