It’s the superhero match-up you’ve been waiting for. The two heroes, one full of hope and the other full of darkness, face off in an angry battle that’s sure to rock the nerd world.
No, no, no, not Batman V. Superman. Arrow and the Flash.
The two-parter, spanning one episode of The Flash and one episode of Arrow, does piggy-back a bit on that fad, however, initially bringing the heroes together as a team, then pitting them against each other. But as the special carried over into the Arrow episode, it thankfully came away from the versus idea, settling instead on a shaky partnership.
And it is shaky. Oliver doesn’t really want Barry’s help to begin with, despite the fact that he saves his life, and there’s an ideological difference between them that grows over the course of the episode. The Arrow is focused on results while Barry cares more about the methods: the harsh pragmatist meets the sunny idealist. That brings the theme of the episode to a very intriguing question: which one of them is right?
It’s not an easy question to answer. As the crazy boomerang killer (an adaptation of the DC Comics villain Captain Boomerang) closes in on Lyla for her attempt to kill him after a Suicide Squad mission gone bad, panic quickly ensues. Lyla’s life is on the line, and who knows how many others. So isn’t it justified to torture one man in order to save the lives of everyone else?
Barry doesn’t think so. He’s reminded of what Joe told him in the most recent Flash episode, how many people still see the Arrow as a killer, and that his methods are violent and brutal. When Barry confronts him about this, Oliver lists off the terrible things that have happened in Starling City. This isn’t Central City, he reminds him. It’s darker; much darker. No argument there. But does location really have an impact on morality?
Different situations call for different measures though, or so Oliver thinks. But when the information gleaned from that particular torture session proves to be a trick, Oliver starts doubting himself. As it turns out, torture isn’t always the best option. And as Arrow and the Flash come to an agreement on a budding partnership with some leeway on either side, the show continues its trend of telling us about a stricter code of morality by displaying Oliver’s mistakes. There can be no doubt to the audience; we are meant to understand that brutality is seldom the best measure.
That gives way to deeper issues, as well. This is the first episode this season where the flashbacks have actually played a significant part of a cohesive narrative, showing how Oliver thinks he lost his humanity in everything that he went through in the five years he was gone (until the last flashback, which basically took a step backward by showing Oliver torturing a man after he’s begun to reform that behavior in the present). But as Barry tells him, and as Oliver comes to realize, just the fact that he came out of that place still wanting to help people is extremely significant.
As I look back on this episode in the context of the three seasons of Arrow as a whole, I’m reminded of the transition that he makes in Season Two, from murdering vigilante to valiant hero. The writers have established a very interesting way of lining out a moral code by showing Oliver’s mistakes, and his reforms, after establishing him in the first season as a man who wanted to be a hero but ended up playing god. I’m now more comfortable promoting the show, because it endorses the Biblical principles of protecting the innocent while criticizing the sinful attitude of bloodlustful vengeance. The show, which could easily have promoted subjective morality, is instead morphing into something of a bastion of vigilante ethics, compared to what it began as. That combined with the fanfare to make comic book geeks shriek with delight makes this one phenomenal episode. So for the second week in a row, I must say that this is likely my favorite episode yet this season.