By any metric, that initial crossover between Arrow and The Flash this time last fall was going to be tough to beat. It brought out the best in both shows, allowing Arrow to be a little more laid back and funny, while The Flash got gravitas and dread in return. The chocolate and peanut butter worlds of Central and Star Cities worked in perfect harmony despite their differences, so the question became this week: can lightening strike twice? Especially when the level of difficulty is taken up with the addition of an extra cast of superheroes? The Flash portion proved the answer was yes. The Arrow portion? It was mostly yes.
Let’s consider last night’s Flash, “Legends of Today,” briefly. It was just about wall-to-wall action with Barry and Co.’s sudden decision to take Kendra to Star City for her protection after the sudden arrival of Vandal Savage; after all, whatever slight experience that Team Arrow has with mysticism was good enough for Team Flash. (Too bad Barry doesn’t have John Constantine’s card.) From there, it was the joy of seeing Cisco clip Thea for her choice of superhero name, witnessing Cisco and Felicity’s adorkable near high five, getting that classic Green Arrow and Hawkman animosity, and laughing out loud at Barry’s appraisal of Malcolm Merlyn’s entrances (“Is that the only way this guy knows how to enter a room?!”) Even the Flash stuff involving Caitlin and Harrison-2 making Speed Force juice didn’t slow things down. So to speak.
Unfortunately, either the pressure of concluding the epic, two-nighter got to writers Brian Ford Sullivan and Marc Guggenheim, or they just couldn’t handle the demands of the week’s melodrama involving Oliver’s discovery that he has a son, and that Sandra Hawke was paid off by Moira Queen to say she miscarried. There was urgency to Caitlin and Wells trying to find a way to make Barry faster, but aside from geographic convenience, why did the writers choose here and now to deal with Oliver’s secret paternity?
And even if we did have to slog though Oliver’s discovery that he had a nine-year-old son, why did it have to unfold in such an obvious and pedantic way? From stalking mother and son, to collecting DNA on the sly, to the inevitable confrontation with unsatisfactory conclusion, exactly how was this supposed to go except the worst way possible? If sitting through that wasn’t bad enough, Felicity’s histrionic reaction to Oliver not telling her immediately that he had a son he never knew he had was head-scratchingly bizarre. Sure, be pissed off when Oliver keeps a secret plan to kill Ra’s al Ghul with Merlyn from the team, but because his first reaction when finding out William’s existence wasn’t to call his current girlfriend…?
Of course this was all about creating the worst possible timeline. As soon as we saw Barry catch his Speed Force reflection as he ran to a meeting between himself, Oliver, Merlyn and Savage, we knew something bad was about to go down. When the team confronts Savage, who demands that Carter Hall and Kendra be turned over or else suffer unspecified drastic consequences, the plan goes horrible wrong. The Hawk people are killed, Savage nukes Central City and kills everyone, except Barry who manages to outrun the shockwave and reset back one day. There’s no crying in baseball, but sometimes there’s do-overs in superheroing.
Interestingly, it took the death of all the heroes for the episode to really get going. Barry, although appropriately concerned about the implications of time travel, did the rare smart thing on Arrow and lay all the cards out on the table: Oliver was distracted, the glove weapons sucked, and Kendra flaked at the worst possible moment. Kendra was the key to getting things right, and Cisco was the MVP by being the good guy we all know he is in order to get past his jealousy of Carter and help Kendra find the answer to beating Savage in her very first past life: “Sky rocks,” or meteors* to use the modern term.
*Between meteors being the answer and the fact that Team Flarrow was operating out of a farmhouse, this week had a serious Smallville vibe. Of course, Green Arrow, Hawkman and a variant of the Flash all appeared on that show with pre-Superman Clark Kent, and as Thea observed, superheroes on the farm was a story we’ve heard before.
Extensive flashbacks filled in the back story about how way back in the Middle Kingdom of Ancient Egypt, Carter, a prince, and Kendra, a priestess, fell in love despite the rules, and Vandal Savage was court toadie with delusions of grandeur that peed on their love story. Oh yes, and Savage was also in love with Kendra, which, as one person on Twitter put it, basically means that Savage killed Carter and Kendra 206 because she “friendzoned” him. It somewhat undermines Savage’s, well, savagery by casting him as the Ancient Egyptian Ducky (from Pretty in Pink not NCIS), but Casper Crump is a still a forced to be reckoned with.
Now obviously, the “death” of Vandal Savage will be short-lived in some respect. Despite the build up, he seemed pitifully easy to end under the combined might of Team Arrow, the Flash and Hawkman and woman, which makes me wonder how he’ll be a consistent threat weekly against said Hawkpeople, a guy with high tech armor, a nuclear-powered superhero, two master criminals, a resurrected assassin, and a time traveler, but I suppose that will be for Legends of Tomorrow to work out. Hopefully now, for the sake of both Arrow and The Flash, their heavily-lifting in launching Legends is through, and we can get back to more straightforward adventures for both heroes.
In some ways, the crossover is disappointing because not everyone got a chance to shine. Although Thea got a couple of fun moments on last night’s Flash, she, and the rest of Team Arrow, seemed like an after thought in the conclusion on their own show. (They did fair better than Caitlin though, who I literally forgot was there.) At the same time though, Carlos Valdes was given some great stuff in the Arrow hour, as Cisco was really the unsung hero. His strength, loyalty, and compassion allowed Kendra to find her inner heroine, even though in the end it meant that she had to leave him. Most guys don’t take losing their girlfriend to her 4,000-year-old ex well, but Cisco has faith in the mission. He believes in heroes even when they don’t, and it’s beautiful.
Also good is the relationship between Oliver and Barry, which has not only grown since last year’s team-up, but seems to have grown in the 24 hours between The Flash and Arrow. It was a relief that the script abandoned the rivalry to allow both men to address their concerns and fears about their predicament in a frank and adult manner. Not that the rivalry stuff isn’t fun, but it was correctly put aside for the complexity of the situation, Oliver didn’t dismiss Barry’s concerns about fiddling with time and Barry called Oliver out on his inability to put his personal stuff aside for the greater good. They pushed each other to overcome their weaknesses, and it was a great way to utilize the crossover conceit.
Although not as funny, or as filled with energetic zip as The Flash, Arrow successfully wrapped up the two-parter in a satisfactory way. In realigning our focus to Damien Darhk and the other doings in Star City, the episode did leave us with one or two potential gold nuggets. Firstly, what does Merlyn intend to do with Savage’s ashes, and does his familiar “You owe me one, buddy,” indicate that he was closer to Savage than he let on? And Merlyn’s not so veiled threat to Oliver should Thea get killed in the fight against Savage, is that a not-so-subtle bit of foreshadowing?
Next week, we get back to business as usual with the fall finale. But will there be a fall fatality? Stay tuned.