[This is a review of Arrow season 3, episode 8. There will be SPOILERS.]
After a successful outing by Team Arrow to Central City in The Flash, it was time for Barry Allen and his S.T.A.R. Labs teammates to make the trip over to the very different world of Arrow, and to get a taste of how things are done in Starling City. The two-part event crossing over two of The CW’s biggest, universe-sharing shows began with an episode that was, in effect, a test of strength, making ‘Flash vs. Arrow‘ a thematically appropriate tussle between the two heroes. But with the obligatory (and very well done) hero vs. hero battle out of the way, the second part of the two-night event was free to focus on the other aspect (or perhaps dissimilarities) of Oliver Queen and Barry Allen’s nascent relationship.
In that sense, ‘The Brave and the Bold’ was about the ideological differences between the Arrow and the Flash, and how all the things that make their respective series’ unique – i.e., focus on metahumans, tone, and setting – are also the elements that help drive the manner in which each hero approaches his work. There’s a simple binary of light vs. dark at play that utilizes the differences between Starling City and Central City in a way that’s reminiscent of the disparity between Gotham and Metropolis without overtly calling attention to the latter two locations. Starling City is the darker, crime-ridden burg that’s a reflection of Oliver’s pained, gloomier personality, while Central City’s light-filled streets and more colorful meta-villains mirrors the sunnier disposition of Barry Allen.
It’s a simple recipe for conflict that the Arrow writers handle well, bringing their ample experience to the table to explore the distinctions between the two characters. By allowing the environment to illustrate the need for the methodological differences Barry objects to, the episode winds up servicing the happenings of ‘Flash vs. Arrow’ without repeating them.
To help underline the disparity, Arrow goes the extra mile, making Starling City seem even seedier than usual. The layered lighting the show has mastered over the last few seasons becomes the episode’s star player at one point, as neon lights bathe everything in a crimson sea of debauchery and conflict. Even the goons Oliver, Roy, and Diggle show up seconds too late to dispatch look like they could give Mark Boone Junior some competition in the overly grizzled, road-worn department. So when Oliver and Barry quarrel over Arrow’s painfully persuasive technique to obtain the location of Captain Boomerang (played by the very welcome Nick Tarabay), the mood has already been properly set.
What ‘The Brave and the Bold’ does so well, then, isn’t solely to teach Oliver a lesson that his methods are too draconian or simply too violent – that would have been too easy, too obvious. Instead, the episode uses the occasion to illustrate how living in a world (or city) increasingly filled with metahumans can distort a person’s perspective, and that a return to “reality” – in other words: the street-level conflict of Starling City – can result in an aggressive form of culture shock. And in much the same way The Flash playfully handled the weirdness of Cisco’s propensity for giving everyone fun nicknames, Arrow uses Cisco, Caitlin, and Felicity to address how what they thought of as a game can have a far more serious connotation when the major players are of the distinctly non-meta human variety.
The outcome is an episode that’s more in line with the thematic needs of Arrow, which results in an unsurprisingly on the nose flashback sequence, in which Amanda Waller illustrates to Oliver her ethos that an extreme situation calls for an equally extreme response. Oliver’s reluctance to torture a man results in a bomb being detonated and Waller ostensibly heaping the loss of countless lives on the shoulders of her reluctant recruit. That ties in nicely to the main thrust of the plot, which paints Boomerang as another victim of A.R.G.U.S., who’s out to exact some revenge on Lyla for her efforts to “sanitize” Boomerang’s team, after a mission went awry. In a sense, Oliver and Harkness are both products of the same system, and the similarities in their methods make for a deliberately muddled hero vs. villain showdown that seems destined to prove Waller right.
The climactic sequence in which Barry races to place the various team members at bombsites to simultaneously defuse two situations at once validates the idea of a team-up in the best possible way. After nearly an hour of showing Oliver up with his speed, Barry uses those same abilities to prop his friend up, and to give him an opportunity to make the choice of what kind of hero he wants to be. The result is the continued maturation of both heroes, showing the many ways in which Oliver has evolved over the years and how, in his freshman outing, Barry is increasingly ready to accept a greater responsibility with all that power.
Arrow will air its midseason finale, ‘The Climb’ next Wednesday @8pm on The CW. Check out a preview below: