‘The Flash’ Review: “Flash vs. Arrow”
Well that was a LOT of fun.
There are times to get super serious in the world of episodic reviews, and there are times to pass around a few beverages and raise a glass. I don’t know if this was the “best” episode of ‘The Flash,’ whatever that word really means, but it was almost certainly the most entertaining. As light on its feet as The Flash (and ‘The Flash’) has ever been, “Flash Versus Arrow” delivered on the promise of its title and provided some pulpy thrills while also providing conflict for future installments.
Quibbling over the coincidence that brings Oliver Queen and company to Central City is past the point. Why have superheroes share a narrative universe and NOT have them occasionally crossover? We all love crossovers when they make sense, and the sporadic nature of these encounters makes them all the more special. This isn’t Oliver Queen setting up camp in ‘Smallville’ (more on that show later). This is the dour, dark world of ‘Arrow’ blinded by the light, nimble, almost cheerful world of ‘The Flash’. And that’s quite a potent combination.
Underneath all this zip was actually a fairly good, necessary story: Barry Allen is too darn full of himself at this point, and ‘Flash Versus Arrow’ turns his weekly tendency to run into danger without a second thought into a major schism between Oliver and Barry. Yes, this led to ‘Rocky’-esque training montages in which the former consistently outwits the latter, but only someone like Oliver is going to get through to Barry at this point. Sorry Caitlin, Cisco, Harrison, and Joe…but The Flash gonna do what he’s gonna do until his inspiration takes him down a few pegs.
To create actual conflict between these two, ‘Flash Versus Arrow’ deploys a metahuman dubbed Prism (although I prefer The Rainbow Raider, Caitlin’s most adorable contribution to the show to date) to essentially infect Barry with rage the way that red kryptonite would occasionally turn Clark Kent into a Kryptonian d-bag. Tom Welling ALWAYS nailed those red kryptonite episodes on ‘Smallville,’ and Grant Gustin does a great job tonight as well turning off the good ol’ boy charm and channeling some inner demons. What’s equally fantastic: After Wells/West fix Barry via chromotherapy, he admits to Oliver that a lot of what he said while under Prism’s “whammy” was based in subconscious thought. Knowing all that anger lurks under Barry’s surface gives this show some much-needed grit, without the need to constant add it to the mix. ‘The Flash’ works because it’s NOT ‘Arrow,’ and while both shows are good at what they do, it’s awesome to have a show that doesn’t feel the need to constantly go dark in order to demonstrate stakes.
Still, this wasn’t a dark episode at all. It was fantastically fun from the moment Oliver’s arrows pierce the screen. My notes on the episode essentially read like “A Cool List Of Stuff That Happened”: Cisco’s Yoda impression, Felicity’s Flaming Shirt, The Marx Brothers Boomerang, pretty much everything Diggle, pretty much everything Diggle/Cisco, the snark over adversary names, “Happy Hanukah!”, Wells figuring out Oliver’s identity in about 11 seconds, Oliver figuring out Wells is probably cuckoo for cocoa puffs in less than 11 seconds, every damn second of Arrow/Flash no-holds-barred throwdown, the return of Oliver’s baby mama, and the debut of Firestorm…I mean, there’s something to be said for a show holding back for maximum impact, and there’s also something to be said for a show just making it rain awesome on the audience.
In terms of the long-term effects of this episode, there’s obviously tomorrow night’s crossover conclusion on ‘Arrow.’ But this episode finally, truly gave Eddie some purpose as the man who will hunt down The Flash. It also finally threw some cold water on Iris’ crush on her favorite superhero. “Guys like us…we don’t get the girl,” Oliver tells Barry as the pair stare wistfully at Felicity and Iris. And while that seems like an awfully arbitrary thing to say for programs that constantly show these men mooning over these women, I’d reframe the statement this way: These girls don’t need these guys, because they are actually women with their own wants, needs, and yes, independence. We don’t know what Iris’ needs are, because we’ve only seen her in the context of her relationship with Eddie or her infatuation with The Flash. At least Felicity has demonstrated her worth through her brains and humor, neither of which are dependent on Oliver Queen or Ray Palmer. Iris only currently exists as one-half of a pair, rather than a stand-alone individual.
(They also should just freakin’ tell Iris that Barry is The Flash, especially since he tells every metahuman this and also 60% of Starling City [plus a non-small percentage of Central City] seems to know Oliver Queen is The Arrow.)
I honestly don’t know when, or if, the show will fix its Iris problem. But that’s about the only problem the show has at this point. And with only one episode to go before signing off for the Fall, ‘The Flash’ has established itself as a sturdy, sprightly addition to the small-screen comic book world. It got that mighty fast, but that’s only appropriate in this case.