Subscribe To Why Arrow Is Handling Time Travel And Parallel Universes Better Than The Flash In Season 8 Updates
Spoilers ahead for the November 5 episode of Arrow's final season, called "Present Tense."
Arrow's drive toward the massive "Crisis on Infinite Earths" crossover took a turn for the weird in previous episode when The Monitor zapped Team Arrow 2.0 from 2040 back to 2019, and "Present Tense" saw the next generation of heroes teaming up with their parents to battle the latest Deathstroke. In the course of the episode, Mia, William, and Connor had to come clean that JJ had killed Zoe, Star City circa 2040 is a hellish disaster zone, and everything is awful. Meanwhile, Oliver tasked a returned Curtis Holt with figuring out if there's a way to build a weapon to stop a god, a.k.a. The Monitor.
Basically, this was the kind of episode that few Arrow fans could have even imagined a few seasons ago, when Arrow was still the grounded series in the Arrow-verse. In fact, between the time travel, Team Arrow's determination to change the future, and parallel Earths in the mix, this plot would once have felt more fitting to The Flash than Arrow. At this point, however, I have to say that Arrow is doing a better job with time travel and parallel Earths than The Flash is. Why? Because Arrow is taking the simpler, more straightforward approach.
That's not to say that Arrow Season 8 is simple or straightforward, but the heroes of Arrow don't have the option of racing back and forth in time or jumping to parallel worlds to pick up an assist from an alternate version of an ally, so they have to rely on their own actions and trust that what they do can make a difference.
There will be no do-overs for Arrow, and nobody has the power of trying to alter an entire timeline to change one small thing. Barry has been irresponsible and too casual with time travel and Earth-jumping over the years; I can't guarantee that Oliver (or Mia, based on the events of "Present Tense") would be able to hold back from trying to use powers like Barry's to try and change time, but that's not the way Arrow operates, and so the stakes feel higher.
Even though the latest time travel twist means that Zoe's life could be spared in the future, JJ might not turn evil, and so much of the bad that created Star City 2040 can be averted, the losses feel real.
For me, deaths on The Flash don't really have an impact anymore. When Nora died in the Season 5 finale, my reaction was to wonder when The Flash would bring her back rather than to mourn that she was gone. If Barry had watched an Earth destroyed in front of him on The Flash, I would have assumed that he would try to use his powers to bring it back. Oliver (along with Laurel and Diggle) watching Earth-2 destroyed felt scary and permanent, and Team Arrow 2.0 can't just jump back to 2040.
The episode of The Flash that aired before Arrow's "Present Tense" on November 5 is actually a prime example of my point. The bombshell reveal that Cisco had done something awful wasn't even that big of a deal, because of course it could have been one of countless other Ciscos who committed the crime. At the end of the day, what happens in Case Of The Week episodes involving time travel and parallel worlds on The Flash still qualifies as a very big deal on Arrow, and for me as a viewer, that's a good thing.
Was "Present Tense" a perfect episode of Arrow? Certainly not. In fact, certain elements of it may make it rank as my least favorite of Season 8 so far. While I loved the character development between Oliver and his kids, as well as between Diggle and Connor, some of the plot developments fell flat for me, especially Rene's sudden push in his run for office and the groundwork for the spinoff between Dinah and Laurel, mostly because it felt like the groundwork for a spinoff rather than an organic part of the episode.
Still, I enjoyed how Arrow continued to handle time travel and parallel universes, whereas I'm more or less unimpressed when The Flash does it most of the time nowadays. Still, I'm open to The Flash proving me wrong, especially since The Flash could have a long life on The CW while Arrow is ending only two episodes after the end of "Crisis on Infinite Earths."
See how Arrow continues to tackle these Flash-y plot twists when new episodes of Oliver's final journey air Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on The CW.