I remember listening to NPR’s film review of Marvel’s The Avengers in 2012, and chuckling when the notoriously erudite public news outlet could muster no true criticism because (quoting from memory), “Look, there’s Iron Man, and he’s talking to The Hulk AND Captain America! Now, Iron Man and Captain America are fighting Thor! Quibble about plot inconsistencies if you must, but there’s a reason comic book fans have rejoiced for so many years whenever characters cross over into other characters’ stories: It’s just so cool!”
That’s “The Flash Vs. Arrow.” Oliver, Felicity, and Diggle’s reason for being in Central City isn’t particularly strong, not every scene totally worked, and the villain is the weakest yet realized by The Flash. Plus, some of the storylines the episode set up for both Flash and Arrow are more “Please don’t do that” than “I can’t wait to see how that turns out.” However, The Flash and Arrow were in the same episode together, kicking each other’s asses. Come on, that was just so cool!
Why Some TV Crossovers Work & Some Don’t | Ever since I saw The Jetsons Meets the Flintstones TV movie as a kid I have been enamored with the idea of TV crossovers. Sure, it made no real sense for the futuristic Jetsons to meet the prehistoric Flintstones, but the extra jolt I felt from seeing two previously separate universes collide was exhilarating. I felt exactly the same way years later when DuckTales character and robot suit-sporting super hero Gizmoduck showed up to bicker with the titular, Batman-like hero of Darkwing Duck. However, I say I like the “idea” of TV crossovers because the actual reality often reeks of tacky cross-promotion, frequently involving two shows whose differing narrative tones are incompatible. That’s ultimately what torpedoed Family Guy’s ill-fated Simpsons crossover episode earlier this year, resulting in a half-hour of television the AV Club recently named as being among the worst of 2014. When The Simpsons did its own crossover with Futurama a month later the results were vastly different. It was actually a fantastic episode which made brilliant usage of Futurama’s characters, and the two shows blended together as seamlessly as possible. That’s because The Simpsons writers were working with characters they understood (and helped to create in the first place) just as Family Guy has had better luck in the past with its limited American Dad crossovers.
Not that this kind of thing is exclusive to animation. TVTropes.org has an extensive list of all the cross overs in the history of TV, the most recent probably being the ratings coup uper-producer Dick Wolf scored with his SVU/Chicago Fire/Chicago P.D. event a couple of weeks ago.
What They’re Taking From The Whedonverse |The gold standard for me remains Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. In fact, in interviews hyping The Flash before it had even premiered the producers consistently pointed to Buffy/Angel as their model for how to build a Arrow/Flash shared universe on TV. It’s the little things, like how in a season 4 episode of Angel you watch Angel make a phone call to Buffy’s house and in the corresponding season 7 episode of Buffy you see that someone leaves a room to answer the phone. The only show that actually depicted the conversation was Angel, but if you watched both shows you saw how it it linked together perfectly even though Angel was on The WB, Buffy on UPN. So, that’s why there was the brief scene of Barry calling Oliver on the phone in Arrow’s season 3 premiere, setting up Oliver’s appearance in Flash‘s pilot. The little things like that help make a heavily hyped two-part cross-over event feel less like pandering and more like a natural inevitability.
Like Oliver and Barry, whenever Buffy or Angel crossed over into each other’s show they also did so as respective heroes with differing ideologies, but, unlike Arrow/Flash, they did so as former lovers which introduced a completely different dynamic. Eventually, Angel became its own show, indulging in high fantasy while Buffy mostly stuck to monsters as metaphors, but they never grew so far apart as to feel as if they lived in completely different universes. As times goes on, Flash will undoubtedly (like, once time travel comes along) move further and further away from Arrow. Barry and pals (and Dr. Wells) will undoubtedly encounter many things that would cause Diggle to flash a wide-eyed, non-blinking thousand yard stare. That’s not to say that crossovers will prove impossible in the future, but now was definitely the right time to do it.
Did The Tone of the Shows Mesh Well Together? | My best friend has yet to really get into The Flash, partially because she’s seen enough of Arrow to know that The Flash is a completely different show. As has been argued by many people many times already, the way Andrew Kreisberg and company are going about this is that The Flash is essentially the Richard Donner Superman (with a little of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man) and Arrow is the Christopher Nolan Batman. Those two universes shouldn’t mesh well together, and it’s been hard for my friend to get past the seeming incongruity of all the light, fun stuff that’s happening in The Flash supposedly occurring in the same grim universe as Arrow.
That’s never been an issue for me, in no small part due to the fact that I am increasingly growing to ignore Arrow and focus on Flash because the latter seems like the superior TV show right now. However, it’s also because I used to watch Batman: The Animated Series and Superman: The Animated Series, two shows from the same creators, sharing the same cinematic universe but most definitely not the same tone because, well, Superman and Batman are very different. The crossovers they eventually did worked because they had fun playing with show’s differing tones.
That’s what “Flash Vs. Arrow” realized and managed to pull off. It’s not for nothing that the first time we see Team Arrow gathered together in the episode it’s at night in the rain, huddled behind some random abandoned factory. Based on their Starling City haunts, of course that’s the type of place they’d set up camp in Central City. However, they were immediately placed in opposition to the elevated tone of The Flash when Diggle could muster nothing but wide-eyed bewilderment when he first saw Barry’s super speed. David Ramsey played the moment probably bigger than anything he’s done as Diggle to this point, but it worked because it was an honest, human reaction that felt in character. He is, after all, the one who was most skeptical of the super soldiers on Arrow last season until he saw it in action.
Of course, giving Diggle a couple of funny moments seemed like a no-brainer, and his “I had a cousin get hit by lightning once. He just developed a stutter” line was a true highlight. The true test was whether or not Oliver Queen/Arrow would actually make sense in Central City, and positioning him as a mentor figure worked, foreshadowed by Cisco’s earlier Yoda quote. The points he made about Barry’s recklessness made sense, and they came along with fun tone-teasing moments like Oliver refusing to say the word “metahuman” (which he actually came around on by the end) or give his villains silly nicknames only for Barry to throw Deathstroke and Huntress back in his face. Oliver’s speech about his secret identity at the end was absolutely something he’d normally do, but here it was brilliantly played for comedy because a big, vaguely threatening speech from Oliver can’t be taken completely seriously by The Flash. That type of true-to-character moment lightened with levity helped Oliver make sense in The Flash’s world.
They Managed to Advance the Plot |Have you ever been dieting and found yourself rationalizing eating a particularly savory desert with something like,”But it has strawberries in it. That’s at least kind of healthy”? That’s how I imagine writers for TV shows feel when they have to plan out a big cross-over episode. We can get our childlike glee of pushing Flash into Arrow, like kids playing with two action figures, just as long as we also figure out a way to have the cross-over actually matter. Dan Harmon’s Community subscribes to a similar logic, trying to justify its genre-bending flights of fancy by sneaking in some major plot revelation/resolution.
So, Oliver, Felicity, and Diggle weren’t just dropped into Central City for the heck of it. They were there because their actions inadvertently helped Barry pay off pretty much all of his current emotional arcs, lashing out at Caitlin for continuing to treat him like her dead fiancé, Det. West for having failed to get his father out of prison, and poor Eddie for having the audacity to be in a relationship with a girl Barry has never come clean to. Oliver was specifically there because with the freeze gun now in Captain Cold’s possession Team Flash has no way of stopping Barry if he goes evil, and ala Clark Kent in Superman 3 or many, many episodes of Smallville that’s exactly what happened. Even with all the logical “This is why Arrow would lose the fight” points made by Cisco and Caitlin, Oliver was their only hope. Thus we had a ridiculously fun fight scene which brilliantly put the show’s two established fighting styles in opposition to one another, Oliver just barely managing to subdue Barry after 3 or 4 minutes of purely joyous comic book storytelling.
Of course, the exact ways all of this went down could have been a little better. Team Arrow being in Central City because a boomerang from a Starling City crime scene is made of a metal largely unique to Central City? Eh. We’ll go with it. A rage-inducing villain we ultimately know little to nothing about and don’t even see his actual capture? Eh. They needed a reason for Flash and Arrow to fight; they picked the comic book character with the perfect superhuman ability to make that happen.
Plus, why exactly was Eddie suddenly so anti-Flash? Wanting the task force after he’d been attacked by a compromised Flash made sense, but wanting it even before that felt like I had somehow missed the part of the story where Eddie’s encounter with Girder took him from “Impossible things exist in the universe!” to “That Flash is a public menace!” This inevitably covers similar territory as the various police forces which have targeted Arrow, led first by Det. Lance and then Laurel.
Speaking of familiar territory, last week I argued that Barry’s flirtations with Iris as The Flash didn’t particularly bother me. This week it officially entered into creepy territory, though. As Caitlin argued, it became clear that Barry really was just disrupting Iris’ life, staying just a little too long, leaving her panting breathlessly upon his departure. Thankfully, this finally moved a new direction, with Iris seemingly anti-Flash now (it’s like she’s moving through an accelerated version of Laurel’s relationship with Arrow). One can only guess how long that’ll last, and I hope that whenever Iris does find out Barry’s secret she doesn’t let him off the hook for toying with her the way he has as The Flash.
When Oliver and Barry both looked at the current loves of their life near the end, Oliver resigned to loving Felicity from afar and Barry simply processing Oliver’s advice about Iris, I did think about the on-going criticism of most CW shows, which is that they are often just blatant teen romances dragged down by endless shipper fodder. A recent binge re-watch of The Vampire Diaries reminded me of the truth in that criticism, although I still like the show. Romantic pairings have definitely been more of a concern to either Arrow or The Flash than Marvel’s Agents of Shield. Whether or not the heroes of the CW shows eventually get the girl is an ongoing concern, but when it works best is when it is simply part of the unfolding superhero saga and that’s mostly what it felt like here.
THE BOTTOM LINE
What I said at the beginning sums it up best: Oliver, Felicity, and Diggle’s reason for being in Central City isn’t particularly strong, not every scene totally worked, and the villain is the weakest yet realized by The Flash. Plus, some of the storylines the episode set up for both Flash and Arrow are more “Please don’t do that” than “I can’t wait to see how that turns out.” However, The Flash and Arrow were in the same episode together, kicking each other’s asses. Come on, that was just so cool!
1. When Dr. Wells tried to bully Felicity into revealing the Arrow’s identity I initially thought he was actually going to try to recruit her to Team Flash considering all the praise he threw her way when they first met.
2. It is a bit silly that Cisco continues giving all the bad guys nicknames, but I actually appreciate the show finding a way to simply tell us the comic book names of these guys similar to how every new villain on DisneyXD’s Ultimate Spider-Man gets a brief freeze frame title card ala combatants in a fighting game.
3. When Oliver shaked the hand of formerly-skeptical-but-now-thankful-police-detective Joe West at the end, I imagined him thinking, “There’s something awfully familiar about this.” Or maybe he should have just asked, “Do you know Captain Quentin Lance of the Starling City PD? You two seem to have a lot in common.”
4. Nothing Dr. Wells and Det. West said about why Barry shouldn’t look up to the Arrow was wrong. What they didn’t know is that Oliver feels the same way. He told Barry as much in the pilot, namely that he wants him to inspire people in a way the Arrow can’t.
5. Of course Oliver would instantly recognize something off about Dr. Wells.
6. If you don’t know your comic books (or cartoons based on comics), that cliffhanger ending with Caitlin’s not-dead fiance re-emerging as Firestorm must have been amazing.
7. Oliver has a kid he doesn’t know about. That’s kid mother is the woman he ran into at the end. If you don’t watch Arrow that scene probably made no sense. It’s a storyline loosely adapted from the comics, but the history of dropping kids into the lives of main characters on TV shows is very, very not good. This is one of those “Please don’t do this” storylines I referenced.
8. Around a second after I thought, “Wait, wouldn’t Felicity’s clothes catch on fire?” is when I looked up to see that her blouse had indeed caught on fire. Well played, show.
ScreenCrush – “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.”
TV.com – “I was glad that ‘Flash vs. Arrow’ didn’t pause The Flash‘s ongoing storylines just because Oliver was in town, and that Oliver’s visit actually helped move some of them along. Barry’s rage infection likewise provided a nice parallel to the rage issues Oliver experienced in Arrow‘s first season; even if the episode didn’t do much to draw out and make those parallels apparent, it did highlight how Barry is still trying to sort out what it means to be a hero.”
I’m done with my ramble. Your turn.