If last night's episode of Arrow proved anything, it's that The Flash needs to slow down and take a little time to smell the roses. Or, in this case, the rented cow pasture.
Wednesday evening viewers were treated to one of The Flash's best episodes this season. How, exactly, did they pull that off when technically it wasn't even their show? Well, for once there's plenty of time to explain.
Last night, the CW concluded its two-night, two-hour, back-to-back crossover special that spanned not one but two of its most popular series; DC Comics-inspired The Flash and Arrow. (You can read our recap of the first night here.) The assembled cohort of superheroes are in a pitched battle with Vandal Savage, a 4,000-year-old assassin played by Casper Crump, who's come to Central City to kill Kendra Saunders (Ciara Renee) — also known as Hawkgirl.
After the climactic battle with Savage in the first episode ended in a draw, our heroes decide to move Saunders outside of Central City for her own protection. Their base of operations? A country farmhouse beside an idyllic red barn.
Flash and his friends just need to slow down and rest for a spell.
After a half-season spent touring Central City's finest dimly-lit warehouses and empty corporate plazas, the wide open spaces and warm, elegant lighting this time around was a welcome relief. The pastoral setting seemed to breathe new life into the entire series, and gave the episode a markedly slower pace than the previous one. There were great big chunks of the script given over to discrete pairs of our favorite characters, giving them plenty of time to actually speak to each other in full paragraphs, not just clipped sentence fragments.
So where did all this leisurely, intimate acting get us? Pretty damn far.
Early in the episode, the team concocts a plan to wrest Savage's most powerful totem, the Staff of Horus, from his control. First, they need to create a power glove. The only trick — other than not angering Nintendo's lawyers — is getting close enough to grapple with the old coot to use it. Their plan is simple; lure Savage in close by offering to give up Hawkman (Falk Hentschel) and Hawkgirl, then snatching the staff and turning it against him.
And so they do that ... without any backup at all. They send two young heroes, a reincarnated Egyptian royal and Central City's newest barista against an immortal supervillain with four millennia of experience under his belt.
It does not go well.
Saunders freezes, unable to spread her wings and create the distraction our heroes need. The glove isn't powerful enough to control the Staff of Horus and Savage turns the tables, using the powerful artifact to nuke Central City.
In the final moments of this ill-fated attempt Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) runs for his life along the edge of the explosion's pressure wave. As he runs, faster and faster, we see everyone he knows and loves incinerated. With tears in his eyes, Barry runs so fast that he accidentally slips backward in time, right back to a moment earlier in the episode.
The Flash and Green Arrow have one more chance to kill Savage, so they elect to play their trump card — Cisco Ramon.
For the last few episodes, Cisco, played by Carlos Valdes, has been courting Kendra. Long before he knew she was a metahuman he was falling for her. The arrival of her long lost lover, Hawkman, has thrown a bit of a wrench in things. Much of the episode is given over to Cisco and Kendra working through that, and both actors rise to the occasion.
This week's biggest hero was Cisco Ramon, wielding the power of love.
In the first half of the crossover, we spent much of the time trying to get Kendra to ease into her new identity as Hawkgirl. Hawkman's solution, up to this point, has been a kind of trial by fire, stressing Kendra emotionally and forcing her to embrace the violent, angry aspects of her previous life. Cisco has a much gentler touch, an awkward grace but also a deep emotional connection with Saunders that helps her to relax.
Cisco soon finds that they share something in common; troubling visions. Every once in a while he, a metahuman himself who also goes by the name Vibe, gets a vision of the future. That's how he first realized Kendra was Hawkgirl, after all. He implores her to turn away from anger, to instead relax and give herself permission to go to those strange places in her head.
And so, right there in the middle of a placid green field, she has a breakthrough. Suddenly Kendra is able to journey all the way back in time when, 4,000 years ago, her past lives began. There, in a bedchamber in ancient Egypt, she witnesses her first death at the hands of Savage. In so doing, she also stumbles upon the secret that will bring him down.
It seems that at the very moment that Savage first killed Hawkgirl and Hawkman, a massive meteor crashed into them. The metal inside that space rock was also inside the Staff of Horus, giving an incredible power to the curse that was placed upon them all. Suddenly, Cisco's shirt choice this episode begins to make a lot more sense.
Anyway, the team reasons that if they embed chunks of that same meteor into their powered glove they'll have a better chance of taking on Savage. Before Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards) can finish Googling, Flash is already back in the war room with a sample of the same meteorite stolen from Central City's museum and the team gets to work on the power glove in the shed out back.
Meanwhile, Arrow's Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) is working through his own personal struggles. In the last episode he bumped into an old girlfriend, Samantha Clayton (Anna Hopkins), and also caught a glimpse of a young boy who could be his son. Queen steals a lock of the boy's hair and gives it to Barry Allen to run genetic tests on, which confirm his suspicions. In last night's first, doomed timeline that realization leads to a confrontation between Arrow and Felicity — one which leads to Arrow and Flash running off to confront Savage without backup, ultimately dooming them all.
In the second version of events, Flash takes Arrow aside and explains to him what went wrong. At the risk of disrupting the timeline, Barry confides in Oliver that the results of the genetic test ruin his relationship with Felicity. The result is that in the new timeline Barry never runs the test, but the confirmation that Samantha's child, William, is Arrow's son is shared nonetheless.
In the episode's final battle, the Arrow team is on hand for the final fight with Savage. Both Felicity and Cisco are running the war room, while in site a black fan filled with extra heroes rolls up behind the powerful old assassin to add their strength to the fight. In an instant it's over, with the villain and his staff both reduced to a pile of ashes.
But Arrow still has a secret he's keeping from Felicity. It's a conflict fans of Arrow will be grappling with for some time. And, in the episode's concluding scenes, Kendra says goodbye to Cisco. Instead of staying in Central City, she makes the decision to move away with Hawkman. After a 4,000 year love affair, it's hard for Cisco to object. The two clearly still have feelings for one another, and will no doubt be a key part of keeping the connection between The Flash and the upcoming series Legends of Tomorrow firmly in place.
Vibe and Hawkman will probably never be best buddies.
But those of us over here in The Flash country won't have to worry about ancient girlfriends or illegitimate children for some time to come. No, we've got a different row to hoe, one filled with well-intentioned but overbearing father figures aplenty and the bumbling, poorly written girlfriend characters who just can't seem to stop shooting them.
I've got to tell you, it was a welcome relief not to have to worry about Detective Joe West, Iris, Dr. Harrison Wells, Patty Spivot or Jay Garrick for an entire hour last night. Here's hoping that the team behind The Flash will take some time to explore these background characters with the same leisurely pace, and with the same level of intimacy, that fans were treated to last night during Arrow.
Otherwise, I'd rather they just leave them in the dust.