One of the things that the creative teams of Arrow and The Flash truly excel at is understanding the inherent appeal of superhero stories. The writers on the shows just get why so many people are endlessly compelled by larger than life tales about people trying to do good. Alone, that wouldn’t be a particularly valuable quality, but the reason that fact is important is that the folks guiding these two series also understand how to question that appeal. Arrow in particular has been adept at analyzing some core components of superhero stories, in particular the no killing rule so many heroes abide by, and turning those examinations into the basis for all the stories being told. In other words, these are two shows made by fans of comics and superheroes who aren’t content to simply rehash that which has come before, instead they’re analyzing, critiquing, and entertaining all at once.
“The Brave and the Bold” puts this point across many times, but never more emphatically than in its final moments. After two episodes of team-ups, and one metahuman influenced scuffle, Oliver and Barry head off on their own to determine once and for all who would win in a fight between the two of them. Barry naturally points out that every other person they know would die to see this fight, but Oliver says it’s only for the two of them. It’s a clever way to allow the show to both indulge in the appeal of the superhero team-up, a large part of which originates in the appeal of figuring out which hero would triumph if they fought, while couching the moment in character. It’s the writers figuring out why these heroes would fight, rather than simply deciding it would be cool to see them slug it out. They’ve taken a tried and true trope of superhero stories and given it a thematic reason to exist within their tale rather than just revisiting the same old story beats.
Which isn’t to say it isn’t cool to see Oliver and Barry duking it out, it is, and the show makes that point abundantly clear as the entire sequence is deployed to highlight just how neat it is to see these two characters enjoying themselves while testing their abilities. More importantly though, the fight and the fact that it’s held apart from both their friends and, ultimately, the viewer, since it cuts away just at it starts up, says something important about what it means for these people to be heroes. They’re separate from us and as such this is a private moment that only they can share. They’ve earned it through pain and sacrifice that not everyone has had to make, or would even be able to if put in the same situations.
That concept drives most of the episode, as it delves into Oliver’s methods for crime fighting and how his past has led him to this point, a point where he feels that he’s lost most of his humanity in service of helping others. Oliver’s always been a dark character, at first willing to murder just about any villain who got in his way, and even now that he’s eschewed killing he’s still willing to torture and intimidate his enemies if it produces results. Just like The Flash’s half of this crossover, “The Brave and the Bold is an Arrow episode through and through, it may be a little lighter than most thanks to the presence of Barry, Cisco, and Caitlin, but it still deals with weighty themes and broken, damaged characters in a fairly grave manner. Diving into the trauma that forged Oliver and following him as he tries to dig himself out of the hole that he’s found himself in after his five years away from Starling City.
It’s why Captain Boomerang is an appropriate villain for this episode, even if he’s just a little too thematically on the nose. He’s in town looking for revenge on Lyla after she attempted to sacrifice him during a Suicide Squad mission gone awry. Boomerang’s a ghost from Lyla’s past come back to haunt her while also echoing Oliver’s struggles with the past trauma that fuels his current approach to fighting crime. Sure, it’s a little silly to use a boomerang themed villain to highlight thematic points about past indiscretions, but it still speaks to how the writers are dedicated to finding ways to utilize the raw material they’re working with to do more than just think up exciting new fight sequences.
Arrow’s interested in pulling apart the superhero story and then putting it right back together, stronger and better than it was thanks to the ordeal. It’s one of the things that makes the show’s dark tone enjoyable, it earns that darkness by questioning just what makes it work, rather than substituting intensity and grimness for actual hard, creative work. Arrow isn’t empty, and it’s more than just an exceedingly enjoyable action series, it’s a show about what superheroes are at their core and why they keep having stories told about them.