Let’s Talk Flash -&- Arrowverse Classic: Flash vs. Arrow

Arrowverse Review Index

After a few weeks’ hiatus, The Flash is back, with Season 9, Episode 9: “It’s My Party and I’ll Die if I Want To”, featuring the return of Stephen Amell as Oliver Queen, teaming up with Barry Allen one last time. In honor of that occasion, our Arrowverse Classic review will look back at the first time the Arrow and the Flash teamed up, with the first of many annual crossovers: The Flash – Season 1, Episode 8: “Flash vs. Arrow”!

If you’ve been reading these posts each week, you’ll have gathered that this final season of The Flash has been disappointing me. My thoughts on each episode have never gotten higher than “decent outing” and have often sunken to the depths of “outright obnoxious to sit through”.

Well, I’m glad that, if the Arrowverse has to end this year, at least we got one episode that was an absolute blast to watch, and “It’s My Party and I’ll Die if I Want To” is it!

Of course, this episode stacked the deck in its favor. It featured the return of:

  • Wally West and John Diggle, welcome additions to any episode (though, if they can make it to Barry’s birthday party, it makes Joe’s absence all the more conspicuous).
  • Caitlin Snow, or at least people remembering that Caitlin existed, was a friend of theirs, and is maybe someone whose death they should feel bad about.
  • Samil Ramamurthy as Bloodwork, picking up right where they left off in “The Last Temptation of Barry Allen”, the last truly fantastic episode The Flash did. This ep doesn’t quite reach those same highs, but it’s still an engaging villain performance, and does some fun visual stuff as Ramsey messes with Barry’s head (Hey! We finally got “Flash Facts”!)
  • And, of course, Oliver Queen. Having Stephen Amell back in the role after three years (it’s been three years!? damn), having John & Oliver finally get to say goodbye, having Oliver & Barry’s simultaneously supportive and combative camaraderie on our screens again, having so many callbacks to crossovers of yore, having Oliver sucker punch Barry one more time…

The sheer fanservice of it all, I almost want to knock the episode for playing on easy mode, but damn if I didn’t have a big, goofy smile on my face through so much of it. Sometimes, after a scene finished, I’d rewind just because I wanted to enjoy the scene again right away. It’s been ages since The Flash has gotten to me like that, and it’s nice to know that even now, they can still pull it off on occasion.

The Flash – Season 1, Episode 8: “Flash vs. Arrow” review

It’s interesting to look back at how traditions began.

This episode (along with Arrow’s “The Brave and the Bold” that aired the same week) was the beginning of the Arrowverse’s annual crossovers. Oh, there had been minor crossovers before that: Oliver had a cameo in The Flash’s pilot episode, Barry returned the favor in the Arrow Season 3 premiere, Felicity guest starred in the fourth episode of The Flash, and one ep before this the Clock King showed up. But this was the first time the main cast of each show were all brought together for a single adventure, right before the mid-season break, a tradition that would continue for the next five years.

And given the crossovers that came afterwards, it’s amazing how low-key this first offering is. The world isn’t in danger – the bad guy isn’t even particularly menacing. No one dies, or gets married, or discovers a secret lovechild. There are only two shows to crossover, and they’re not trying to set up a new spinoff or tease a bigger crossover for next year. This isn’t even a two-parter – “Flash vs. Arrow” wraps up its story by hour’s end, and the Arrow half of the crossover tells a completely different tale.

This is just a regular, standalone, villain-of-the-week Flash episode, except that Team Arrow has shown up to join the fray.

And, y’know, that’s really quite lovely! It’s great seeing these characters hang out when there’s not some doomsday scenario or high melodrama that demands their attention. By making the threat so low-stakes, we’re free to focus on the interactions between the characters, how they view each other, what they bring out in each other, and the ways they’re both very different and very much the same. Heck, the episode doesn’t even bother showing how Rainbow Raider is caught – once the Barry vs. Oliver conflict is resolved, that’s our climax, and catching the metahuman baddie can happen off-screen.

Of course, when I talk about character interactions and conflict in this episode, I don’t just mean folks standing around chatting. The clear centerpiece of this episode, the event this whole plot was orchestrated to lead to, was the Flash and the Arrow getting into a no-holds barred slugfest. Have any two superheroes interact, and people will ask who would win in a fight. The Arrowverse crew knows this, and gives fans the brawl they’ve been asking for – though, in standard superhero crossover fashion, they avoid giving either hero a clear-cut win over the other.

This fight pulls out all the stops. Since a battle between a speedster and a guy with archery skills should be over in about half a second, every beat of the fight needs to be planned out carefully to keep it an even match. They show us how Oliver uses strategy and equipment to get the edge over Barry, then how Barry uses speed to overcome Oliver’s tactics, then how Oliver recovers and gets their edge back, and so on. It’s one battle where they can’t just have two characters slug at each other – there’s a lot of thought put into every move our heroes make, and into how best to show off what they’re capable of. That makes this one of the most creative and engaging fight scenes the Arrowverse ever produced, and was a key part of making these crossovers something to look forward to every year.

Having Teams Flash and Arrow stand on the sidelines and argue over who would win: that was just the icing on the cake.

Stray Observations:

  • While this crossover wasn’t much like the crossovers that followed, it did establish a plethora of running gags that would keep coming up over the years: Iris having the hots for Oliver, Diggle being freaked out by sci-fi stuff generally and superspeed in particular (though we’re not to the barfing stage yet), and Oliver being, just, hilariously petty and show-offy around other superheroes. “I have a prison like this. Mine’s on a nearly inhospitable island in the North China Sea, but this works, too.”
  • The relationship between Oliver and Barry (one a gritty, cynical, often brutal vigilante with no superpowers, the other an upbeat, idealistic guy who won the superpower lottery) is an obvious attempt to replicate the Batman/Superman dynamic in a franchise that, at this point, was not allowed to actually use Batman or Superman. It manages to be its own thing, though, thanks to Barry being a novice to the superhero game, while Oliver is the old pro that Barry looks up to.
  • It’s weird to remember that, this early on in The Flash, the existence of the Flash and metahumans generally was still considered something of an urban legend by most of Central City. It wouldn’t be till a couple episodes after this, when Captain Cold publicly challenged Barry to a showdown, that your average Arrowverse citizen had to accept that superpowers are a real thing.
  • Also weird to go back to a point where these shows were pretending Barry/Iris and Oliver/Felicity might not be endgame.
  • I considered covering the Arrow half of the crossover along with this ep, but honestly, “Flash vs. Arrow” was so much more enjoyable than “The Brave and the Bold”, I felt like it’d just turn into me ragging on the latter, when the point of these Arrowverse Classic reviews is to look back at all the good times we’ve had with these shows.

Question of the Week: What’s your favorite Arrowverse fight scene?