In case you’re not up to date with both shows, SPOILERS AHEAD…
When I first heard news that an Arrow spinoff show, The Flash, was in development I was a little uncertain. Arrow was a dark and brooding show, propelled by Christopher Nolan’s gritty Batman trilogy, that had purposely avoided the inclusion of super-powered characters throughout it’s run of two fairly great seasons. So the idea that The Flash was going to not only be a light-hearted show dealing directly with super powered beings, but was also going to be canonically connected to the world of Arrow, made me a little skeptical.
It didn’t seem like it would be possible to maintain two related shows that so greatly contrasted in tone and in content. And yet, here at the end The Flash‘s freshman year and Arrow‘s third season, I’m able to say that not only was it possible, but it produced some of the best television of the 2014-15 season.
Admittedly, there was a lot I didn’t like about The Flash throughout most of its first season. There were many characters that felt unserviced in their characterization, the main instances being Cisco (Carlos Valdes), Caitlin (Danielle Panabaker) and Iris (Candice Patton). It was only in the last few episodes, after his ultimately reversed death, that I could really find joy in the Cisco character (And yes, I did hope at the time that he would stay dead, although I’ve since changed my mind). Prior to this the character had seemed to be too much of a forced fan-boy-comic-nerd-scientist nod for me to find him truly genuine.
In the same way, Caitlin seemed to spend so much time looking doe-eyed and shocked that a lot of credit goes to Panabaker for keeping the character likeable. While she did have her whole dead-Firestorm-fiancÃ© storyline, there really wasn’t that much else to her character. With both Cisco and Caitlin filling the roles of plucky sidekicks, the amount of personal information I could tell you about both characters is fairly limited, which is something that I really do hope improves in the second season.
The character of Iris, unfortunately, is probably the weakest on the show, and I hate saying that because on paper the character should be well liked. Her storylines as a blogger-turned-reporter should have been more interesting, but they were continually bogged down by her role as the unrequited love interest. Maybe if she had found out sooner about Barry’s secret, she could have had room to grow, but leaving her as the necessary character not in on the secret identity all year meant she was continually out of the loop on things that would have otherwise made her more interesting.
Looking at The Flash, it’s very easy to make comparisons to Smallville. Both have a fairly bright and colourful comic-like world, and both shows adhere to the campier end of the television superhero spectrum. But where The Flash proves to be the better show is in its attempt to keep characters emotionally grounded, no matter how ridiculous storylines get. (And yes, in terms of quality, Smallville did drop heavily in its middle period before picking up again towards the end.) It didn’t matter as much if characters at times seemed one dimensional or shallow, because The Flash always maintained a strong emotional core that kept its characters and storyline connected.
A lot of this had to do with the acting of Gustin, who really carries the show with the level of depth and emotion he brings to Barry. There were a lot of things that could be questioned, like cool-looking jail cells that functionally were impossible, or questionable super villain motives, but the moment Barry believed it, you believed it.
The finale is a perfect example of this; even with crazy black hole and time travel storylines, the show felt grounded. The focus on the emotional ties between the characters and the decision Barry must make about changing the past feels genuine, ultimately because it’s a plot angle treated with respect. Barry’s conversations with his friends, family, and enemies about saving his mother keep the show grounded, which in a lesser show would be discarded for more flashy special effects.
Where the finale left off, with Barry travelling though a singularity/black hole in an attempt to close it, opens up a lot of possibilities, including alternative universes that could be a lot of fun (let me just leave my hate for Caitlin, a brilliant scientist, questioning what a singularity was here). Hopefully this is where we’ll see Tom Cavanaugh’s Dr. Wells again, instead of some cheap ploy that would bring the character back from the dead in the main universe.
In saying that, it might be the opposite case for Arrow, which has effectively ended a lot of its main storylines in the finale. With Oliver giving up the Hood and the team being split up, the writers will have a hard time putting all of the pieces back together.
This season of Arrow was fairly uneven, failing to live up to the greatness of the previous two. Introducing Ray Palmer (Brandon Routh), a.k.a. the Atom, was problematic, and using him for a love triangle between Oliver and Felicity was even more problematic. While Routh was enjoyable, his character was just a little too cartoony for what has otherwise been a realistic and dark show. And while I definitely ship Oliver and Felicity together, I didn’t want it to come at the cost of having Felicity pine for him for what felt like the majority of the season.
The weakest parts of this season were most-definitely the Hong-Kong flashbacks, which just dragged on. In looking back, it feels like they spent multiple episodes flashing back to the same scene, and it really took a toll. Since the beginning, the show has used flashbacks to reveal relevant backstory to season arcs, but it’s starting to wear thin. Without coming up with a really great storyline for season four, it would be wise if they dropped it completely or risk it becoming gimmicky.
What made the flashbacks worse though, was that it offered nothing new. It seemed like the same character beats we had already seen on the island: Oliver is stuck in a dangerous place, he makes friends, there’s a big bad guy, he’s put through trials, he bands with his friends and finally wins the day. Plus the more Oliver’s time away is built upon, the more room it leaves for narrative inconsistencies, which makes me reassess his character from the start of season one – and not in a good way.
And while it was great that Laurel (Katie Cassidy) and Thea (Willa Holland) finally got to get in on the action, it seems that they became a little too good, too quickly. Thea’s transformation is a little easier to swallow, seeing as she trained with Maclolm Merlyn (John Barrowman) for a while, but Laurel almost transitioned into a competent fighter as the Black Canary overnight. While you got to see Oliver develop into the Hood in season one through blood, sweat and tears, here Laurel only spent a few episodes learning before she went from being terrible to being able to hold her own against the trained assassins of the League. It’s this kind of storytelling that really made Arrow lose its sense of realism this season; it kind of sucks that these characters didn’t get to earn their transformations.
A joy of both shows though has been the crossovers; the characters floating between the two shows have really expanded the world. What’s better is that apart from the first instances, a big deal is never made when characters actually do visit. Characters seamlessly glide in and out of each show, but are actually made relevant by that week’s plot. It’s nice that the writers have confidence that most of the audience is watching both shows and therefore don’t need to continuously explain who these characters are.
There are some downsides; managing two very different storylines is eventually going to cause problems. It reminds me a lot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel and their attempts to link up. There were some really decent moments that paid off nicely if you watched both but, as they went on, these instances offered less and less satisfaction due to storylines. When one show’s characters are in trouble, it’s hard to think that they wouldn’t contact their other super powered friends for help.
The only real time that a crossover has felt out of place was in Arrow’s finale, when Barry showed up to save the day. If he had played more of a role in the episode then it could have been fine, but he literally showed up only to release team Arrow and then disappear again. As a consequence, it opens up more questions than it’s worth, like why couldn’t he just fight Ra’s al Ghul all along and stick him in prison?
I’ve been left excited to see how Legends of Tomorrow turns out and how these characters are going to find themselves back and forth between shows, although with very mixed feelings. I can’t reasonably see how Sara (Caity Lotz) could be resurrected and not return to her family or Oliver. I’ll assume it’ll rely on some terrible consequence if she does, but her death was one of the more tragic and earnest parts of Arrow that would only be cheapened if it were completely undone. Exactly how all of these new characters will mesh together should be an interesting watch and, from the looks of the trailer, it appears the show will fit somewhere in-between it’s two predecessors’ light and dark tones.
Still, if The Flash has taught me anything, it’s that I should have faith in the creators knowing what they are doing. So instead, I think I’ll just wait for the Legends of Tomorrow pilot and assume that I’ll probably find a lot to love!