Flash vs Arrow: Two Different Hero’s Journeys

The epic The Flash/Arrow crossover (henceforth called #Flarrow) is so close I can taste it!

We’ve been getting teases all week from the actors and the PR teams, and it’s been giving me so much excitement anxiety! Soon we’ll get our OT3s from each show (Oliver/Diggle/Felicity, Barry/Cisco/Caitlin) in the same room, fighting the same villains! There’s so much to dissect concerning group dynamics (Oliver vs Harrison Wells — Oliver will surely find Wells suspicious; Diggle vs four talkative nerds; also: what’s Lyla doing in some of the promo shots?), but as The Flash portion of the crossover is called “Flash vs Arrow,” I wanna take some time to talk about Barry and Oliver and their differences as heroes. This will set the scene for what we’ll see in the episode and show us, perhaps, how each hero makes the other achieve character development over the course of the two episodes.

Barry and Oliver are obviously very different people, so their hero styles, naturally, will clash. Last time Barry was in Starling City (Arrow 2.08/2.09), he was on Foundry duty with Felicity, using their mutual brain power to help Oliver out in the field. This is the dynamic Oliver will be used to, Barry out of the way in a lab. He knows Barry is The Flash, but hasn’t yet dealt with Barry as a full-fledged hero out in the field.

This clip from the episode shows their conflict. Already we see Oliver acting as the superior with all the experience, with Barry as the “chihuahua,” ready to jump and bark at every little thing.

Barry calls Oliver on the “new” feeling of jealousy, but Barry’s taunts are clearly born of insecurity. Let’s talk about each man and their personalities, then the differences in their journeys.

Oliver is the superhero pro here. Stephen Amell has said in a lot of recent interviews teasing the crossover that Oliver is the grumpy old curmudgeon who’s been doing this for years (five years of island/Hong Kong training, three years as the Arrow). He frowns a lot, born from nearly a decade (wow!) of tragedy left and right. He’s older and (thinks he’s) wiser. His methods are also more cautious; he comes at things from an angle (literally in order to shoot an arrow, he angles his body to the side), rather than head on. He works in the cover of darkness and relies on stealth and quiet to complete his missions. Oliver is street smart, not book smart, but even that is hard won after years of being forced out of his cushy mansion (I hope he’s learned how to do laundry).

He may not have superpowers, but Oliver has the skills and the mindset to be a hero. But it’s about actually making the choice to save people; choosing not to go as far as he was forced to during his exile. He came back from the island set on crossing off names from his list, and not doing much else. It took 1.) Felicity’s insistence that they actually focus on people who needed saving and 2.) Tommy’s death for Oliver to realize that his skills could be used to actually help people on the ground and without killing them. But he’s still struggling with making those choices because his journey didn’t start with him being a hero, it started with him doing whatever it took to survive, and that often involved murder. He had to find the hero within himself. Now that he’s found it, his journey is the more complicated one of figuring out if he can be a superhero and a man too.

Barry does have superpowers. Which he thinks gives him an edge on Oliver. He’s fresh out of the gate of this superheroing thing and has caught nearly all of his rogues so far (oh there you are, Captain Cold). He’s starting on a high note and his powers only make it higher. He smiles a lot more. He comes at things head on; again this is even literal: he runs facing forward and barrels through and past things at lightning speed. He doesn’t tend to go for caution, he wants to find the fastest way to save someone and then immediately goes for it (saving the window-washer in episode 1.05). Of course, Barry is book smart, but he lacks street smarts, which often gets him in trouble. He doesn’t yet know how to go about things, as Calbear on twitter pointed out:

Barry does everything at super speed and doesn’t mind being loud. I loved his banter with the man who was mugging him last episode. Oliver would have stared at the man for all of five seconds then popped him in the head before walking away stoically. But loudness and being too quick to act has gotten Barry in trouble before (part of the mess with Plastique was his eagerness to contact her, have her join the team, etc), and by the looks of the sneak peek above, his willingness to taunt “Ollie” (I went “oh snap!” several times after hearing that) is about to get him in trouble again.

Barry’s journey is less about choosing his inner hero, he burns with the desire to help people. He  works in law enforcement, ran after Iris’ purse-snatcher in the pilot, and immediately returned to Starling from the train station in Arrow 2.09 because he wants to help people. It’s at his core, no doubt stemming from his mother’s death. But he doesn’t know how to best execute his heroics. He’s on top now, but he’s thinking with just his heart, something Wells recently called him out on. He’s not thinking things through before acting. It’s all about the immediacy of the moment. “Can I save this person right now? Yes. Okay, let’s do it.” Oliver is more, “Is saving this person the best thing to do right now?” often stemming from years of making sure that his own survival came first (remember that fake “student” from season 1 who Oliver declined to save & turned out to be bait?). He struggles with choosing to do the heroic thing in each moment, which makes him more cautious (except when Felicity is involved: “There was never any choice to make.”).

And aside from the superpowers bit, Barry Season One is starting off much better than Oliver Season One. Barry has his core team faster than Oliver gained his, Original Team Flash is fast becoming a well-oiled machine, while by this point in Oliver’s journey, Felicity was still in the dark about Oliver’s identity (however quickly she was putting the pieces together). Barry has two mentors in Central City, Oliver had no one. Three years later, Oliver is suffering from this disadvantage. He’s heading into mentorship (Roy, Barry, Thea in the future perhaps?) flying blind. And Original Team Arrow is a bit fractured at the moment, with Felicity mending her broken heart in the arms of Ray Palmer and Diggle making a life with Lyla and Baby Sara. Oliver never really had someone to tell him what to do, how to make choices as a hero and right now is low on equals. So pre-episode, it seems like in the Flash vs Arrow aspect, Flash will win, but Oliver’s got still got the experience.

Oliver and Barry have very different hero’s journeys to make. One is about choosing to be a hero, the other is learning how to be hero. One is brave (def n: ready to face and endure danger or pain; showing courage). I believe this to be Oliver. He is prepared (both mentally and experience-wise) to face whatever dangers and has definitely endured a lot of pain in order to save those he needs to. The other is bold (def n: showing an ability to take risks; confident and courageous). This is Barry, he’s more about confidently taking the risk, regardless of if it’s the smart thing to do or not. Both words have slightly different definitions, but at their core mean the same thing, just like our two heroes have different methods, but at their core are just that: heroes.

These fundamental differences are what makes me so excited for this crossover. They may get in the way in the first part, divide them and put them at odds with one another, but with a combination of these personalities, a “two heads (teams) are better than one” mentality, they should be able to defeat any enemy that comes their way.  They will go from meeting as rivals in “Flash vs Arrow” to working in conjunction in “The Brave and the Bold.” They will learn from each other. Oliver has a lot to learn about jumping in. While he and Barry share a hesitance to tell the people they care about they love them, Barry is more willing to allow his two selves, the hero and the man, to be at peace with one another. Barry doesn’t hold back, Oliver does. Meanwhile, Oliver can teach Barry about the logistics of being a hero, of thinking before acting, of caution and restraint. Barry needs a clearer head before being so quick to speed into every situation. Both men will come out of this crossover wiser, which will lead nicely into their mid-season finales. The things they learn from each other will change how they’ve been going about their respective arcs, leading to a dramatic push just in time for, perhaps, an epic cliffhanger.

I am loving these two shows this season and can’t wait to watch the crossover episodes. Let me know what you think in the comments, what differences in personality did I not mention and how do you think it will it affect their dynamic in the episodes?