How ‘Arrow’ Finally Beat ‘The Flash’ at its Own Game

When it comes to Arrow and The Flash, it’s been a tale of two shows heading in opposite directions for The CW. When the latter first debuted, the former was already well into a sharp decline in overall quality. There was little doubt that at the time, Arrow‘s best seasons were behind it, while The Flash was only beginning to enter into its prime. Now, two plus years later, we’re seeing a stunning reversal for the two shows. We’ve seen Arrow suddenly emerge as the superior offering for the first time in their history of existing together.

It was in the recent season premieres for both series that we saw this reversal take place. While The Flash‘s third season kicked off by exacerbating its many recent thematic issues, Arrow‘s own premiere a day later proved that there’s a new top dog in The CW’s superhero universe.

1. Arrow is returning to basics at the perfect time

Arrow - Season 5

Arrow, Season 5 | The CW

Arrow was indisputably at its best in its first and second seasons, back when the focus was on one man and his struggles to keep his inner demons at bay. The Oliver Queen we see returning from a desert island in the debut episodes of the series, is one who longs to be a hero, while fighting off the dark, violent tendencies that helped keep him alive for five years. The narrative has since been bloated to include a host of other characters. Season 5 kicked off with a return to the basics, whittling the new Team Arrow down to just Oliver and Felicity.

We see Oliver beginning to accept that he’ll need to recruit other young crime-fighters to replace the ones who’ve since departed, so things are about to get crowded again soon. Still though, it’s clear that the focus is once again on one man’s journey, and it’s coming at a time when The Flash is beginning to feel just as bloated as Arrow circa two seasons ago.

2. We may be back to basics, but the story is still moving forward

Arrow - Season 5

Arrow, Season 5 | The CW

Oliver aptly cited an old Russian proverb in the Season 5 premiere: “The shark who does not swim, drowns.” For the better part of the last two seasons, it’s been tough to shake the feeling that Arrow hasn’t been swimming forward, and it’s suffered as a result. So while the show is re-simplifying its general feel in Season 5, it’s still moving forward story-wise.

Oliver is recruiting a different team in the wake of his old one disbanding, he’s now the mayor of Star City, and he’s encountering a whole host of new problems along the way. Meanwhile, we see The Flash rolling back much of Barry Allen’s character development in one fell swoop, giving us the distinct feeling that the Scarlet Speedster isn’t just running in place, he’s running backwards, while Arrow is finally swimming in the other direction.

3. We’re seeing both sides of Oliver Queen

Arrow - Season 5

Arrow, Season 5 | The CW

It’s important for us to see the main character in a superhero series when they’re not fighting crime, and that goes double for someone as complicated as Oliver Queen. For The Flash and Barry Allen, the two sides of our hero are irrevocably linked. Arrow though, shows us a man divided: On one hand, Oliver has responsibilities as the mayor of a city, and is expected to perform his duties as a civil servant. On the other, his nighttime crime-fighting often puts him at odds with his day job.

We rarely see that sort of dichotomy for Barry Allen/the Flash, and with Oliver’s already well-fleshed out character depth, the difference is beginning to become incredibly clear.

4. The Green Arrow’s moral compass has become far less black and white

Arrow, Season 5 | The CW

Arrow, Season 5 | The CW

There’s a reason that Arrow‘s first season was its best: In it, we get a version of our hero whose moral compass isn’t entirely defined. In subsequent seasons, he’s kept to a strict “no killing policy,” and in many ways it’s hampered him as a character. Season 5 kicks off by showing us that killing is back on the table, albeit far more judiciously than the Season 1 iteration of Oliver Queen. It’s that complex morality that makes Oliver the most interesting hero in The CW’s superhero universe right now, especially when the Green Arrow’s enemies are getting increasingly more brutal with each passing season.

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