“Broken Arrow” isn’t a cross-over episode in the strictest sense of the word, unlike the previous installment of The Flash where both Felicity and Ray dropped by for the entirety of the episode, the only cast member from The Flash we see is Cisco in a very brief scene as the villain of the week is imprisoned in the particle accelerator at S.T.A.R. Labs. While that means this is mostly just another episode of Arrow, it still bases a large portion of the plot on elements that originate from The Flash. The most obvious of which is that the villain happens to be a meta-human rather than just a garden variety criminal.
This isn’t the first time a meta-human has popped up on Arrow, but it is the first time that a meta-human has shown up absent from the Central City characters arriving in Starling along with them. (That is of course assuming that Slade Wilson and crew weren’t meta-humans in the strictest sense of the word.) Arrow’s world is expanding, and that allows the series to play in different areas that at one point seemed unlikely. It also lets the show have an excuse to more heavily involve Ray Palmer. While Palmer’s A.T.O.M. suit doesn’t always gel with the series more practical aesthetic, it fits in just fine when dealing with characters that happen to have a more heightened set of abilities that necessitate more CGI work.
“Broken Arrow” recognizes this and nicely times its use of a meta-human to the moment when Oliver is unable to engage in his standard vigilante activities. Since Ra’s has taken him out of the picture as an active combatant and Roy is in jail after claiming to be the Arrow, that leaves just Ray as an option to track down the plasma shooting bad guy who is ultimately named Deathbolt late in the episode. By doing so the episode gets to indulge in some decent thematic work, Oliver’s inability to step back and let others handle the heavy lifting when he’s incapable of doing so, while also showcasing Ray’s suit and his new role as a crime fighter.
It’s not perfect, but it largely works. (The climax in particular has issues as it feels obliged to involve Oliver physically and winds up giving him remote control over Ray’s suit that is quickly severed and doesn’t add anything of note to the sequence.) In the end things are resolved primarily by a pep talk from Oliver that helps Ray win the fight, it’s not particularly elegant or impressive but the fights themselves are well handled. They’re crisply edited, giving Deathbolt a nice sense of speed and menace and the addition of meta-humans to the mix lets the stunt crew go wild with the super powered punches that throw the combatants around the room. It doesn’t necessarily go above and beyond what is to be expected of Arrow’s almost uniformly strong action sequences, but the slight twist that meta-humans and men in super suits allows lets things feel just a little bit fresher than usual.
None of which touches on the other main concerns of the episode that focus on the continuing fallout from Ra’s al Ghul efforts to force Oliver into his role. The episode handles this portion of things quite nicely, dealing largely with Roy’s incarceration and the team’s frustrations with being unable to help him. It’s well played material even if it isn’t revelatory, up until the point where it seems as if Roy’s been killed, stabbed to death by a prison guard. The episode quickly reverses course on this issue as Roy resurfaces and explains to Oliver that this was the plan all along. Roy would take the fall and then fake his death so as to allow Oliver to stay clear of accusations of being the Arrow. It doesn’t let Oliver reclaim the mantle, if he starts running around again it’s going to be fairly clear that Roy wasn’t the Arrow, but it at least combats Ra’s strategy.
It’s a plot that works because Arrow’s managed to pretty effectively surprise viewers with unexpected deaths. Moira Queen last season, Sara Lance this year, and others have all been bumped off well in advance of any expectation a viewer might have had and killing Roy off could have been a similarly unexpected move which helps sell the moment even as the show walks things back just moments later. The writers seem to recognize this though, and after toying with the audience once they go right back to the well in the episode’s closing moments as Ra’s al Ghul appears in Thea’s apartment and runs her through with his sword, leaving her for dead.
It’s smart writing that plays on the sense of resolution and calm that the episode generated with Roy’s near death to suddenly shock the viewer. Right after feeling relieved that one character has dodged death another is threatened and it’s hard to believe that Arrow’s going to softball the result. Thea could survive, Oliver certainly did when Ra’s mortally wounded him, but there was something evocative in the death that recalled Moira’s. It’s a sign that perhaps Thea really will die here, meeting a similar fate to her mother. At the very least it would be cheap for the writers to pull two fake deaths within just minutes of screen time, but the answer to that question won’t come until the next episode as the hour closes with Thea bleeding out on the floor of her apartment.
The two sides of the episodes aren’t particularly similar in terms of content, there’s a thematic through line when it comes to Oliver having to relinquish control, but what makes them fit is that each is united in making smart use of the world that the series, and its spinoff, has built. Introducing meta-humans to Starling breathes fresh air into a plot that’s fairly standard and the main plot plays off the series’ tendencies and histories to help let viewers buy into moments that should be transparently lacking drama. On another series it would be impossible to believe that either Roy or Thea would be gone for good in moments such as this, but Arrow’s prior unpredictability has bought it some credit with the audience and the writers recognize this fact, just as they recognize the new potential that involving powered characters in action brings. “Broken Arrow” is Arrow highlighting some of its strengths and prior achievements while simultaneously expanding its universe. It’s a busy, not entirely successful installment, but it’s still indicative of a show that’s confident and aware of all the options available to it and how to best utilize them.