Arrow Season 3, Episode 8 “The Brave and the Bold”
Written by Greg Berlanti & Andrew Kreisberg (story); Marc Guggenheim & Grainne Godfree (teleplay)
Directed by Jesse Warn
Airs Wednesdays at 8pm ET on The CW
Maybe “The Brave and the Bold” is exactly the episode Arrow needed; certainly stepping away from the still-vague larger story of the season (which still involves the League of Assassins… right?) held benefit’s on this week’s episode, the most fun episode Arrow‘s had all season. But the lack of focus on larger, overarching stories also allows Arrow to focus in on its main character – and in so, turns “The Brave and the Bold” into the single most satisfying episode of Arrow this season.
Through its first seven episodes, this season of Arrow‘s floundered from story to story: Sara’s death, Felicity’s past, Oliver’s time in China, Oliver’s abilities as a leader, and Laurel becoming potentially useful have all been the focal point of season three at one point or another (and don’t forget Thea 2.0 and Arsenal, which are not really stories, rather markers for further development to this point). By nature, there’s nothing this season that’s been able to begin and end: everything is being held in limbo as the show slowly moves from checkpoint to checkpoint, to the point that the show has felt a little aimless in recent weeks.
The arrival of Barry and STAR Labs to Starling City helps greatly: it establishes that this season of Arrow is not just about the adventures of the man in the green hood and how he can save a city – but how Oliver Queen can save a city, how he can be an inspiration to people where his angrier, much less patient alter ego cannot. The Arrow may be a hero, yes – but how much can one person save when they’re wearing a mask? People are inspired by those they believe are like them: as much as we want to say superheroes inspire us, it’s the knowledge of who is underneath the mask that draws our emotional connection.
And for a bit, Arrow gives us a look into the eyes of people who don’t understand Oliver (thus serving as surrogates for the average Starling City citizen): to both Cisco and Caitlin (the latter of whom is not really a character in this episode, as much as she is a familiar face floating in the background), Oliver’s methods aren’t only unusual, but morally reprehensible, a man who justifies torture in order to achieve his goals. Like Lyla’s violent approach to handling a situation, Oliver’s methods are raw and violent – as Cisco and Caitlin point out later, the metahumans of Central City allow them to stay separated a bit from the repulsive aggression in their world. Superpowers offer the members of STAR Labs a degree of separation from the actions of their enemies; in fact, some episodes have almost justified them, with sympathetic characters struggling with powers they don’t understand or can’t control emotionally. Arrow and the villains in his world are very in charge of their emotions: and without the ability to dazzle with fun, colorful powers, the effects of their actions (and Arrow’s) can’t be fantasized – a man running really fast until someone falls over is a little less dangerous than an arrow through the middle of the bicep, for example.
Instead of just positing Barry as some kind of man with moral high ground, his behavior instead becomes a parallel to draw to Oliver Queen’s: where The Flash inspires people with mystery and charm, Oliver Queen does it with his ability to inspire the others around him to be better than him, to run away from the darkness The Arrow’s embraced, and into the light Oliver himself has struggled to find. And more so, Barry points out that Oliver’s nobility is what separates him from the criminals: Oliver accepts the things he does to others, and punishes himself for it (not allowing himself to be with Felicity, for example), a man who, without Barry’s speech in this episode, would be stuck in the middle of an identity crisis – with The Arrow doing so much “good” around the city, why does he ever need to be Oliver again? Given that he has to protect the ones he loves at all costs, he really can’t be Oliver – but “The Brave the Bold” reminds him that Oliver Queen is the most important half of his identity, that the man under the mask is always more powerful than the costume itself.
“The Brave and the Bold” may not be as wall-to-wall entertaining as “The Flash vs. Arrow” was a night earlier – but without a magic poison running around to catalyze the central conflict, “The Brave and the Bold” is arguably a better episode, one that gives context to the world Oliver lives in compared to Barry, and how it leads the two of them to be very different types of heroes (and in a meta way, justifies just how different these two shows can be while existing in the same universe). Even though “Flash vs. Arrow” is able to integrate both casts a little better, that emotional undercurrent between Barry and Oliver in “The Brave and the Bold” makes the second-to-last episode of Arrow in 2014 one of its finest entries.