“The Brave and the Bold” has the unenviable task of directly following “Flash vs. Arrow,” the exuberant first part of the two-night Arrow/The Flash crossover event. Given Arrow’s stumbles this season, it’s within reason to be a bit concerned about whether or not the show can continue the momentum set by the previous night . It’s with great enthusiasm, then, that I tell you that “The Brave and the Bold” not only equals its brother episode but, in some ways, manages to surpass it.
For one, precisely because the episode needs to squeeze in the Flash cast, both Laurel and Thea are relegated to minor cameos. As such, neither Laurel’s “quest for vengeance” storyline nor Thea’s club/relationship woes are allowed to bog down the hour the way they have in previous installments.
Much like “Flash vs. Arrow,” “The Brave and the Bold” tells a relatively standalone story (though, of course, it’s much more rewarding if you’ve seen the first part). Set approximately a week after the Flash portion of the crossover, the episode finds Team Arrow honing in on the mysterious boomerang-wielding mercenary responsible for killing an A.R.G.U.S. agent back in “Draw Back Your Bow.” The man’s name is Digger Harkness and, as the team soon learns, he was once a member of the Suicide Squad. Now free, he’s seeking revenge against the woman who planted a bomb in his head, and forced him into the Squad: Diggle’s girlfriend/baby mama, Lyla Michaels.
In tracking Harkness, Oliver and company get some unexpected assistance from Cisco and Caitlin, who have taken an unofficial vacation from Central City to see the “Arrow Cave” (both Oliver and Felicity’s stern resistance to their headquarters being called that is one of the episode’s funnier moments). Inevitably, they also end up phoning Barry, who’s all too eager to have another adventure with The Arrow (“Yeah, that was like a one-time thing…” Felicity comments).
While much of “Flash vs. Arrow”—per its title—dealt with the two heroes coming to blows in the wake of Barry being turned evil, “The Brave and the Bold” presents the complications that emerge when the two decide to work together. Barry’s initial excitement at again teaming up with his mentor is quickly dampened when he bears witness to Oliver’s more brutal methods of gathering information. When the Speedster calls him out on this, Oliver proceeds to outline the nature of the world they’re working in—it’s a violent, chaotic place that has brought about the death of his best friend, his former girlfriend, and his mother. “My mother was murdered in front of me too, but I don’t use my personal tragedies as an excuse to torture whoever pisses me off,” Barry counters. “I’m sorry, Barry,” Oliver responds. “I’m not as emotionally healthy as you are.”
Needless to say, despite a healthy injection of Flash-esque levity, Arrow avoids assimilating itself too deeply with that show’s brand. If anything, much of the episode—via exchanges between Team Arrow and Team Flash—works as explicit meta-commentary on the subtle differences between the two programs. While The Flash may be the scruffy new kid ready to jump into battle and have fun, Arrow is the veteran soldier that carries major emotional baggage and has (pardon my French) seen some real shit. During one exchange, Cisco even makes the point that, because Team Flash deals exclusively with superpowered metahumans, it’s easier not to take things too seriously.
In terms of action beats, there’s nothing here quite as dynamic as the Arrow/Flash scuffle in the first part. What this episode lacks in bombast, however, it more than makes up for with fantastic, precise character work. Whereas “Flash vs. Arrow” saw Oliver teaching Barry how to be a better superhero, “The Brave and the Bold” sees Barry teaching Oliver how to be a healthier human being. Furthermore, this overarching theme even helps rope in the typically superfluous Hong Kong flashbacks. This week shows Amanda Waller ordering Oliver to torture a prisoner for information about a bomb. Oliver can’t quite commit to going all the way and, as a result, the bomb is detonated, killing many people. Here, the flashbacks scenes go a long way in highlighting why present-day Oliver is so extreme in his ways, and why he needs someone like Barry to show him a better path.
What’s more, since Oliver and Barry’s working relationship was already firmly established in the wake of “Flash vs. Arrow,” the episode also boasts more real estate for developing the villain-of-the-week as a genuine personality (something that was sorely lacking in the first part). As Harkness (aka Captain Boomerang), Spartacus actor Nick Tarabay oozes both menace and cool. Much like Cupid in “Draw Your Bow Back,” the creative team manages to take an absurd concept for a character, and turn it into something that fits effortlessly into the world of the show.
“The Brave and Bold” stands as the strongest installment of Arrow this season, and serves as a great conclusion to the very successful Arrow/The Flash crossover. It’s an exciting, yet emotionally charged hour where all the elements come together with remarkable dexterity. Both the Arrow and Flash creative teams should be applauded for taking what could have very well been a half-assed bid for ratings, and turning it into something that brought out the best of each show, while also progressing the characters forward in dynamic ways. If “Flash vs. Arrow” was proof that The Flash could stand on its own, then “The Brave and the Bold” is a great demonstration that Arrow has some fire in it yet.
Mark Rozeman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.