Arrow Season 4, Episode 8 “Legends of Yesterday”
Written by Greg Berlanti & Marc Guggenheim (story), Brian Ford Sullivan & Marc Guggenheim (teleplay)
Directed by Thor Freudenthal
Airs Wednesdays at 8pm ET on The CW
The Flash‘s entry in the two-part Hawkman/Hawkgirl introduction feels very much like an episode of The Flash – “Legends of Yesterday”, Arrow‘s half of the Legends of Tomorrow set-up, also feels like an episode of The Flash, which in an odd way, makes this the best Arrow episode of the season. Unfortunately, it comes at the cost of the show’s personality, depicting the very things The Flash has mastered in its second season that Arrow seems to have forgotten since its own sophomore campaign, turning “Legends of Yesterday” from an exciting time travel-y crossover, into an hour raising more questions about where Arrow‘s been going lately than intrigue for where it’s headed.
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The only thing that really makes this episode recognizable is the presence of Oliver/Felicity conflict, at the hands of Oliver doing the usual selfish thing he does. If there’s anything effective this hour conveys about Oliver, it’s that he still hasn’t learned to trust his team yet: in the first half of the episode, that thickheaded approach gets everyone pissed off at him, and then killed. He doesn’t trust Felicity not to freak out about him having a child (FINALLY, we’re getting to this story they teased two seasons ago), and he doesn’t trust the non-superpowered members of Team Arrow to help out against the violent, mystical Vandal Savage – who by the way, establishes himself as more meaningfully mystical and badass than R’as al Ghul was ever able to do, a surprising, impressive little feat.
In that sense, the story of this hour is pretty simple: like Kendra, who just found out she’s dated and died next to the same guy 206 times over the last 4000 years, Oliver needs to trust those around him, or he’s going to get everyone killed. We get it: this is the same lesson he’s been struggling to learn since OG Black Canary showed up in season two, and Team Arrow began to form. Frankly, this inner conflict of Oliver’s is just stupid, on just about every level: his attempts to shoot Vandal with arrows 49,000 times across the course of these two hours, an unintentional metaphor of how thick-headed he can be about things when the script is really searching for some kind of internal tension, in order for this whole affair to still barely feel like an episode of Arrow.
Which it never really achieves; we may get some Arrow sidekicks showing up, but this story is really all about Barry and his ability to travel through time. Without him, Oliver would’ve destroyed the world – or backing up to the beginning of the hour, got killed by a particularly smarmy Darhk, doing whatever him and Team Arrow were trying to do at the episode’s open. This whole episode really just makes Oliver look silly, a man who is trying to keep up the relentless pace of The Flash, yet stuck moving at the same, slowly plodding speed of typical Arrow episodes.
Oliver’s really kind of third fiddle in this episode: behind Barry, “Legends of Yesterday” is all about Cisco, and his ability to turn into a cool boyfriend with a little bit of coaching. Again, a simple story given the larger implications of the episode’s 4,000-year old flashbacks and introduction of characters with retractable wings, but an undeniably effective one: sometimes, it’s just heartwarming to see the nice guy win for once – even if “win” means let his newfound crush go and find her identity in a very change-of-life situation. Cisco’s growth as a character since his Vibe powers have come to the surface have offered a number of avenues into Cisco storytelling, and his character is all the richer for it – but is this the right place to tell a Cisco story?
That thought creeped into my head so many times throughout the hour: if there’s one thing this crossover exposed, it’s the ludicrous ways in which Arrow tries to create emotional conflict, as opposed to The Flash. In fact, Arrow‘s gone so far off the deep end acting as source material for the other The CW hero shows, it doesn’t have a lot of its own identity to draw from – and what personality it does have comes in the form of Felicity/Oliver bickering and… well, that’s really it, since the side characters of The Flash thoroughly dominate the presence of any of Arrow‘s ancillary characters, despite it being their own show and all.
As with last season’s crossovers, Arrow‘s flaws only become more magnified next to the tighter, more driven series that followed it, when they’re put together on the same screen. Maybe it’s because The Flash is about hope, where Arrow is about merely surviving a thoroughly broken world, one with no real chance at redemption (unless you call Malcolm’s path to becoming R’as “redemptive” – though I think the last second tag of the episode proves otherwise). As an origin story for Hawkman and Hawkgirl, or an episode of The Flash that pulls Cisco and company away from S.T.A.R. Labs, “Legends of Yesterday” is an unmitigated success; as an episode of Arrow, “Legends of Yesterday” really misses the mark (no pun intended).