When did our lives suddenly become an ‘Indiana Jones’ movie?
This week, we’ve got the now traditional annual crossover event between The Flash and its parent show Arrow. (They even have special logos! How nice.) This time around, though, unlike last year, it’s a two part story - rather than the largely self contained episodes we got last season, this time, you need to watch both episodes to get a satisfactory, complete story.
Of course, what’s also new is the fact that these two crossover episodes are also acting as set-up for the upcoming spin off program, Legends of Tomorrow - which you can probably tell from the titles! That means, then, that we’re here introduced to two new characters who are going to have pivotal roles in Legends of Tomorrow, and get the superhero origin for a third: Vandal Savage, the main villain in the new program, as well as Hawkman and Hawkgirl, two iconic DC heroes.
Hawkgirl, of course, is someone we’ve already been introduced to - Kendra Saunders, played by Ciara Renee, who we’ve seen enter into a relationship with Cisco over the past few episodes. She’s very much filling the role of a fish out of water here, given the pretty seismic revelations about her life that are going on; not only is Kendra a metahuman, but she’s also a 4000 year old reincarnated Egyptian warrior princess. It’s definitely the sort of knowledge that’s going to make you question a few things, and Ciara Renee does a great job of portraying a subtle, understated reaction to this change.
It helps, though, that we already sort of know the character, having seen her relationship with Cisco develop over the past few weeks - and, of course, the fact that Ciaran Renee gives a fairly charming performance anyway. Falk Hentschel as Hawkman, or Carter Hall, doesn’t really fair quite so well; he’s in the position where he already knows about his past lives, and in his attempts to explain it to Kendra, comes across as a rather condescending and obnoxious character. The character is borderline insufferable, and I really hope that changes when he returns on Legends of Tomorrow in January.
Most successful of all the new character introductions, though, is Vandal Savage. Casper Crump does a great job of portraying this villain as someone who’s genuinely powerful; he’s got a very commanding, very threatening screen presence. He’s an impressive villain, who you can believe would be a significant enough threat to warrant a spin-off program dedicated to him; none of our heroes this week, from Arrow or The Flash are able to properly beat him. They can barely hold him at bay; the episode ends with him achieving his aim, and both parties simply leaving. Barry might have rationalised it as a tie, but it’s undeniable - Vandal Savage is the winner at the end of this episode, and it really sets him up as a properly intimidating villain.
Naturally, though, we still have our main cast - of both shows, that is.
This episode starts with Barry pushing himself, trying to get faster, and reflecting on his battle with Zoom once more. It’s nice to see a callback to this confrontation, and delve into how it’s beginning to haunt Barry; it shows a certain vulnerability to him, and emphasises the fact despite his superpowers, Barry is still impacted by what goes on around him. It’s something that’s returned to later on in this episode, with Barry admitting to Oliver that, despite everything, he’s “never felt so powerless”. I do really appreciate the fact that, even though this is primarily an action adventure show with a focus on superheroics, The Flash isn’t letting character moments take a backseat, and they’re still making sure to keep including them in the narrative.
Similarly, we had a lot going on for Cisco this week, in terms of his relationship with Kendra - which is obviously now in a very different place, after the revelations as to her true identity. Carlos Valdes does another great job here, really proving quite how talented he is, and demonstrating that there’s a lot of depth to Cisco as a character - he’s not just a comedic side character who gives the occasional technobabble explanation. There’s an interesting examination here of how Cisco has been dealing with his own powers as a Metahuman, which does in fact have some nice emotional weight to it - like I’ve already said, I’m glad that these characters are being developed throughout each episode.
In terms of the Arrow crew, the most significant appearances were reserved for Felicity and Oliver, as you’d likely expect - although Thea certainly got some good lines it too. I’m a little behind on Arrow (by which I mean, I’ve not yet caught up past the end of season 2 yet) but it’s nice to see these characters interact with the ones from The Flash. It does help to remind us of the fact that there is a shared universe here - I’m consistently impressed at what the CW has managed to achieve over the past few years with these characters and this world.
Admittedly, though, not everything about this episode is perfect. It’s more than a little overstuffed - with quite so many things going on, it’s difficult to really let any of them breathe. Appearances from John Barrowman as Malcolm Merlin aren’t really as effective as they should be; they happen so quickly and with little explanation that it means Merlin is reduced to simple exposition dumps at times when the script needs to move along somehow. Neither Thea nor Diggle (nor Iris, come to think of it) had a huge amount to do in these episodes, because they were simply crowded out by everything else that was going on.
Similarly, the subplot with Harrison Wells, Caitlin and Jay didn’t really work either. It very much felt like something that was shoehorned into the plot for the sole and only purpose of ensuring that there was something that wasn’t crossing over this week. It would have been better, I think, had this simply been excised to allow the main plot more room to breathe, and just dedicate more time to developing different aspects of the plot. Whilst I can understand the need to set up Velocity 6, given that it’ll likely be important in future episodes, I’m not really seeing any reason why it had to be this week - there’s nothing here that’s going to follow over immediately, so why not just save it for an upcoming ‘freak-of-the-week’ episode that has fewer responsibilities?
Ultimately, it’s this feeling of being overstuffed that hampers the episode, and holds it back from being quite as good as it should have been. It is a shame, because I’d been looking forward to it for quite a while. Regardless, though, this was a thoroughly entertaining episode of The Flash, and I’m really looking forward to the conclusion of this story on Arrow.