Overview: The Flash takes on Zoom while Green Arrow takes on Damien Dahrk, as a powerful, immortal enemy builds up in the background. The CW; 2015; TV-14; 18 episodes.

Set-Up for Tomorrow: In the fall of 2013, the television series Arrow used the episode before its second mid-season finale to introduce Barry Allen, a forensic scientist who would someday become the superhero known as The Flash. It was a bold move: using an entire episode for what essentially was a backdoor pilot to a series that could’ve gone really bad really quickly. However, fast forward two years later, and The CW has two on-going, successful superhero shows in their library. But they also have their next big gamble.

The CW has used the first half-season of The Flash’s second season and Arrow’s fourth season as what basically is character set-up for their upcoming series Legends of Tomorrow, and against all odds, they managed to execute it rather smoothly. Arrow somehow justified bringing back not one, but two of its “dead” characters back to life this season, and even justified them leaving the series two episodes later. The Flash went for simple concepts such as team-up episodes, but the Flash’s team-ups with Captain Cold and the new Firestorm proved to be really fun. Even the crossover event between the two shows was spectacularly well-designed, as it introduced key players in Legends of Tomorrow while living up to the slogan “all-star team-up.”  The set-up gamble worked, and all these characters are now in their own stable areas within the CW-verse.

Flash of Two Worlds: Aside from the set up game, the two series still were able to move along their respective storylines. The Flash picked up a few months after the singularity at the end of last season. Barry is struggling trying to live up to his role as the hero of Central City, as he’s tested past his limits by the villain known as Zoom. Zoom is an entirely different beast from Reverse Flash, whose ghost still haunts Barry, and may prove a threat to Barry and his loved ones come the season finale.

The Flash’s supporting cast gets a greater amount of this season’s focus. Cisco starts coming into his own as Vibe. Caitlyn slowly moves on from Ronnie and forms a cute relationship with Jay. The Wests arguably take the front seat this half-season, as Joe, played by series MVP Jesse L. Martin, and Iris find out that Francine has a son. It’s totally a soap opera, but the material fits the series’ tone and approach to the comic book genre so much that it works almost every time.

The highlight of the season thus far has been the introduction of Earth-Two and all the glorious storylines that come from it. The show can pull off having an Earth-Two version of a previously dead character talk to a telepathic, intelligent gorilla because it fully embraces those aspects and has fun with it. I mean, what other series can have a giant, man-shark appear as nothing more than a fun bit at the end of an episode? None other than The Flash, which is still as wacky and lovable as ever.

Restoration: On the other side of the coin, there’s Arrow Season 4. While The Flash had characters reeling over the effects of last season’s cliffhanger, Arrow had an audience and plot reeling over a disastrous third season. The negative effects of season three are still present in the characters’ relationships with one another, but over the course of the half-season, the self-reparation kicked in, and after that mid-season finale, it’s safe to say the series is in a place where it can launch to an overall good season.

The biggest change this season is that the show has a more hopeful tone than any of its previous seasons. Oliver Queen believes he can save his city more as himself than as Green Arrow, if he runs for mayor. His fight to keep darkness from infecting the soul of his city is a reflection on the series in its current state, and it may not be subtle at all, but it’s definitely an improvement. The same could be said for the actual effort to write the characters this season. Oliver fixes his relationship with Diggle and Quentin. Felicity and her relationship with Oliver actually feed into the overall theme of the season, instead of being a throwaway storyline that was never justified. Oliver and Felicity’s engagement at the end of the mid-season finale felt like an encapsulation of the season thus far; more hopeful, more united, and better written characters.

The superhero soap opera approach to this show doesn’t quite work as well with The Flash, but there are some cases in which the show shines. One such case is the Lexi Alexander-directed episode. Everything from the witty banter to the intense conflicts of the characters felt like they were amplified to the best it could be. Even the fight sequences, that were pretty well-choreographed and inventively shot this season, felt on a higher level. It came off like the episode had confidence in itself, and that’s really when the series shines. Bring in confidence for more episodes like that, and for decisions like bringing in Constantine and making Thea Speedy, and we’ll possibly have another episode that’s on the same level as the Arrow season two finale.

Overall: The Flash and Arrow continue to improve the shared television universe landscape while pushing forward and even improving their own respective series.

The Flash Rating: B+

Arrow Rating: B-