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"You can't expect me to believe that you don't want to know, once and for all, who would win - me or you?"
"You mean if you don't shoot me in the back."
"You gotta get over that, Barry."
"Okay, I have superpowers. You have arrows that run out."
"I have strategy and tactical awareness."
"When I'm fighting you, it's literally like you're standing still."
This week brought a two-hour crossover event between The Flash and Arrow, and it was every bit as fun as that sounds. The first half took place on Tuesday's The Flash episode, 1.08 "Flash vs. Arrow," and it wrapped up last night on Arrow, with episode 3.08 "The Brave and the Bold." I'm going to avoid recapping the plots of either episode, because too much happened that was unrelated to one show or the other - and that's a good thing. While the crossover episodes were definitely open to new viewers of either The Flash or Arrow (or both, presumably), with each episode wrapped up tidily by the end of its hour, plenty of show-specific plot stuff was advanced without spelling it out for newbies. New viewers to either show could follow along and have a good time, but veteran viewers were rewarded with major storyline motion. Greg Berlanti, the showrunner for both series, took a risky approach that paid off, and The Flash and Arrow are each on stronger footing after this week.
Aside from the show-specific plot advancement, "Flash vs. Arrow" and "The Brave and the Bold" offered a two-episode arc that left both heroes, and both shows, better balanced between light and dark. When Oliver, Diggle and Felicity headed to Central City, Team Flash began to see that fighting superpowered crime isn't all fun and games. Barry was turned dark and angry by Roy G. Bivolo, sure, but it felt more like Arrow brought some of its darkness to Central City for the time being. While none of us wants to see a grittier The Flash, since its earnest joy is what makes it such a good show, it was gratifying to see Grant Gustin show off his darker side for a bit - if only to prove that he can deliver that performance as convincingly as all his gee-shucks cheer.
But it's also significant that the Star Labs team learned to take their responsibilities a little more seriously, instead of treating each murderous supervillain like a video game big boss to be conquered and then ushered into a (completely unethical and inhumane) lab prison and never thought of again, and Team Arrow helped them realize that. It takes the higher stakes of Starling City for Team Flash to realize how much all of this matters - they're not just fighting crime for fun, but because it's their duty. Caitlin hits the point perfectly when she says, "I think the fact that we go up against meta-humans made it all kind of clean. Like, the fact that they've got these powers makes what they're doing less..." and Cisco chimes in glumly, "Real." It's an important realization for the young, wide-eyed crew, and while I don't think this means they'll stop giving goofy code names to these bad guys - and I hope they don't - it's a revelation that will help them grow as a team.
It's funny that when Cisco finally gets the episode he deserves, it's not on his own show; Carlos Valdes really shone in Arrow, and for once, Cisco came across as more than the audience stand-in or the comic relief, but as the very heart and hope of this world. Maybe it's that Cisco's jubilant good humor needs a darker backdrop to stand out, but for whatever reason, he's the MVP of "The Brave and the Bold." His flailing attempt on the salmon ladder was pure gold, his joke about the nightclub killed - but it was this line that really stuck:
"I mean, this world was crazy before all these meta-humans and super powers, right?"
"What's your point?"
"Well, maybe meta-humans and superpowers were given to us to deal with the crazy."
"You mean by God?"
"Noooo. By a dark matter wave released from a failed particle accelerated reaction. [hah!] Either way, I think people like Barry are the hope for saving people like us...Plus, you got to admit, it's all pretty freakin' cool, right?"
In "Flash vs. Arrow," as Oliver's fighting a Rainbow Raidered Barry and they're all enthusiastically (and hilariously, it should be noted) wagering who will win - even Diggle, for shame! - the discussion boils down to this: experience vs. superpowers. Oliver gives Barry good advice - case every new environment, trust in discipline, keep training, keep learning, keep trying to be better (and give up on Iris, because "Guys like us don't get the girl"). Barry, for all his speed, strength and quick-healing, needed that advice, and he'll be a better superhero for it.
But what will make Oliver a better superhero? The simplest things: hope. Humanity. Kindness. The ability and willingness to inspire. Oliver's life has grown darker and lonelier over the last three seasons, and he's used his past tragedies, such as his mother being murdered in front of him, as an excuse to justify his most questionable means to an end. It takes Barry - whose mother was also murdered in front of him, he points out - to show Oliver that pain doesn't always have to beget pain, and that there's more to Oliver than that "douche" The Arrow.
"To do what I do, Barry, it takes conviction. But, more often than not, it's the will to do what's ugly. Every time I do that, I'm trading away little pieces of myself. So you asked what's wrong with me. That's what's wrong, because the part that I'm trading away is Oliver Queen. And lately I've been feeling like there is nothing left except The Arrow."
"I think you're full of crap. Look, you've convinced yourself that everything you've been through took away your humanity. But I think it's because of your humanity that you made it through. You wouldn't have survived, much less come out the other end a hero - somebody who wants to do good - if you didn't have a light inside of you."
And Oliver's team is equally strengthened by the lessons they learn from Team Flash, a team that operates more like a family and isn't afraid to have some fun. Much like Cisco was the MVP on Arrow, Dig won the day on The Flash, showing a rare playfulness that really suits David Ramsey. His deep, silent dread of Barry's powers was the best running joke of the episode, and some of that humor made its way into the next episode, on Arrow, where a lighter heart seemed to allow Diggle to do the thing he should have done a long time ago - ask Lyla to be his wife. (Again.)
And Caitlin and Felicity are never better than when they're together. I can't say enough how much I appreciate that these two women, who occupy a similar space on each show, are made stronger together instead of canceling each other out, or falling to jealousy (like Barry and Oliver do, notably). My favorite part of either episode is probably in "Flash vs. Arrow" when Caitlin says, grinning, "It's so nice to have another woman to talk to," and Felicity, grinning just as wide, agrees, "I know!" And of course they aren't talking about TV-typical woman stuff, like men or clothes, but about science. I love these two geeks, together and separately.
The two-parter wrapped up with a big, happy reunion in the "Arrow Cave" (™ Cisco) and with gifts for each team, from each team, and a promise to visit each other again, and to welcome a visit gladly. Captain Boomerang couldn't have been defeated without both teams working together - Barry whooshing Felicity, Caitlin, Cisco and Roy around the city in order to simultaneously detonate Boomerang's bombs while Oliver holds him at bay with his bow. Both crews are now stronger and better for their interaction with each other, and that's true of both shows, too. The Flash and Arrow each feel more expansive and better-developed for existing in the same universe, and we're just lucky to be a part of it.
Coolest moments this week:
I'm glad we didn't see who won in the final showdown between Barry and Ollie. I'm with Cisco, who said with satisfaction after the first showdown, "So. It's a tie."
Every single one of Barry's giant grins. That kid is just so excited to be working with Oliver. His constant desire to impress Oliver with his abilities, and Ollie's stubborn refusal to be impressed, makes for the most charming dynamic.
The boomerang springing through Star Labs, and Caitlin running with her hands up, screaming her head off, while Cisco sheepishly offers, "That's my bad."
“We can talk about you giving bad guys silly code names later.” “You mean like over breakfast with Deathstroke and The Huntress?”
Oliver's wise mistrust of Wells. "There's something off about that guy." Preach, brother.