Warning: This contains spoilers.
Arrow’s showrunners had their work cut out for them this week, simultaneously having to service the second part of a three-way alien invasion crossover (not counting the single scene tee-up on Supergirl) and celebrate their 100th episode in appropriate fashion. It’s fair to say that a lot more attention is paid to the latter element, but the end result is surprisingly effective, making for a hugely entertaining episode that delivers strong character work, enjoyable action sequences and plenty of fan-pleasing callbacks.
Read our review of Supergirl’s crossover episode here.
Read our review of The Flash’s crossover episode here.
Plot-wise, the story jumps straight in where The Flash left off, so let’s have a quick recap, in the time-honoured fashion. Previously, on The Flash: An alien race (who look pleasingly like stretched-out versions of the Martians from Mars Attacks!) called the Dominators arrive on Earth. Barry / The Flash and Oliver assemble an alien-busting super-team that includes Supergirl (plucked from her alternate Earth) and a suited-up Thea and Diggle, as well as Ray Palmer / The Atom, Sara Lance / White Canary, Mick Rory / Heat Wave and Jax and Stein / Firestorm from Legends of Tomorrow. After some action-packed shenanigans involving alien mind-control, Barry and Supergirl are left behind on Earth, as aliens abduct Oliver, Sara, Ray, Diggle and Thea, in a fun cliffhanger moment.
Oh, and Barry confesses to everyone about Flashpoint, meaning that Diggle now knows that Baby John used to be Baby Sara. That results in a few uncomfortable trust issues, but hey, at least it’s all out in the open now, right? Actually, this provides a key moment for Oliver, in that he was the only person not to judge Barry for his actions, recognising that he would have given anything to bring his dead loved ones back to life and would probably have done the same thing.
That ends up playing rather nicely into the Arrow episode, which adopts the common sci-fi / superhero trope of having the lead character wake up in a seemingly perfect world. In Oliver’s case, it’s a world in which both his parents are still alive and he’s about to marry the love of his life, which, in a blow to Olicity fans everywhere, turns out to be Laurel, not Felicity.
We know from the very beginning of the episode that five of the characters are trapped inside alien pods, Matrix-style, so there are no illusions about what’s actually going on and the story is free to explore a more emotional angle. The gimmick is that the characters (and remember that Sara and Ray both started as Arrow regulars) are having the same shared hallucination, even if it’s only Oliver and Sara who gradually realise that something isn’t right.
So, because it’s Oliver’s show, the shared hallucination is, of course, all about him, with the characters gathering for his wedding to Laurel. After experiencing a series of flashback memories to his real life, Oliver somehow makes his way to the Arrow Cave, where he discovers that Diggle is now the Green Arrow, with Felicity still in her same role as his sidekick, though she’s also engaged to Ray. It’s kind of sweet and a little weird that Diggle’s perfect fantasy life has him as the Green Arrow (actually The Hood, as this is very much a Season 1 fantasy), but Oliver scoots right over that and persuades Diggle that something weird is going on.
It’s around that point that you start to wonder if there’s actually going to be any action at all, but that all kicks in once Oliver figures out what’s happening and he realises that the Dominators (or their fantasy machines) will try and fight back by sending enemies from their past against them. Cue a series of great fights with the likes of Deathstroke, Malcolm Merlyn and Damien Darhk. What, no Ra’s al-Ghul? No Baron Reiter? I’m taking their absence as the show’s implicit acknowledgement that those characters didn’t really work out as planned, rather than the actors not being available or something.
Anyway, the fights are cleverly staged, so as to play on existing emotional touch-points for the characters. In particular, Sara gets the cathartic release of killing Damien Darhk in the same way he killed Laurel, while Thea gets to hand Malcolm a well-deserved beat-down. On the subject of Sara, one of the things I like about the crossover in general was the willingness of each show to have key moments from season-long character arcs (e.g. Sara’s quest for revenge, Stein’s discovery of his daughter, Diggle finding out about Baby Sara) take place on different shows, rather than restricting each character to their own show, or simply putting their storylines on hold while everyone teams up to punch aliens. (The exception here is Supergirl, although technically her show takes place on a different Earth, so we’ll let that slide.)
There is no shortage of emotion tonight, either. The function of the illusion-of-a-perfect-world episode is to present the main character with a difficult choice, and sure enough, Oliver chooses to accept that the pain and loss throughout his life as the Green Arrow has made him who he is. This is powerfully contrasted with Thea, who initially decides she’d rather have the fantasy, even with the knowledge of what it is, before ultimately rejoining the fight with Oliver and realising that she doesn’t want to lose the last family member she has left. Crucially, Oliver doesn’t try and talk her out of that decision, which makes her return that much more powerful. It’s been said a lot this season that Oliver has really grown as a person (and as a character) and that’s just the latest example of his emotional maturity and his empathy for those around him. (Excuse me, I think I might have something in my eye.)
Anyway, so, after winning the big fight on the lawn of imaginary Queen Mansion, the alien spell is broken and the characters escape their pods only to realise that – ruh roh! – they’re trapped on a giant alien spaceship. Luckily, they find a smaller alien ship, which Thea quickly figures out how to fly, like a total badass. After a brief spaceship battle, they’re rescued by the timely arrival of the Waverider (the Legends of Tomorrow time-ship, in case, for some reason, you only watch Arrow), thanks to Felicity figuring out their space co-ordinates or something. At that point, Ray gets Gideon (the Waverider’s computer) to translate an alien phrase he heard aboard the ship, which turns out to mean “Prepare the giant Earth-destroying weapon” or something, which gives the show its cliffhanger and lead-in to the Legends of Tomorrow part of the crossover.
Oh, right. The crossover. While all the perfect-world fantasy stuff is going on, we occasionally cut back to the action on Earth, where The Flash and Supergirl team up with Felicity, Cisco and most of Team Arrow 2.0 (Evelyn is absent for reasons that are probably related to last week’s cliffhanger) to try and figure out where Oliver and company have disappeared to. Wild Dog is a little surlier than usual and it turns out that he’s not too fond of meta-humans or aliens, saying that Star City was doing perfectly well until metas and aliens showed up. You have to admit he’s got a point.
Anyway, when Curtis and Felicity realise that they need a particular bit of tech to contact the spaceship, they send The Flash, Supergirl and a still grumbling Wild Dog off to retrieve it, only for them to discover that a woman named Laura Washington has used the tech to give herself cyber-enhanced strength or something. A fight ensues, during which Supergirl saves Wild Dog’s life and he reluctantly admits that, hey, maybe some metas and aliens are okay, after all. I hope we’ve all learned something today.
Admittedly, that glib summary makes it sound like the crossover element is rather clumsily shoe-horned in, but actually, it works fairly seamlessly and it’s fun to see the rest of Team Arrow 2.0 getting in on the action. More importantly, the non-Arrow scenes are a lot of fun to watch, largely because the chemistry between Gustin’s Flash and Benoist’s Supergirl is just so adorable. Although, if you ask me, they’re a little harsh on poor old Laura Washington, who was having a perfectly nice time with her new-found robo-powers until those meddling superheroes showed up and punched her into unconsciousness.
All in all, this is a very satisfying episode that finds a creative way to bring back lots of familiar faces in a fitting celebration of Arrow’s 100th episode, while still delivering its fair share of crossover-related superhero team-up action. Tune in next week for the mid-season finale – and some hotly-anticipated Prometheus shenanigans…
Slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
– So many great Thea moments this week. Her joy at getting to fly the spaceship might be my favourite moment of the season so far. Aside from the Thea moments, the other highlight of the episode is Sara taking down Deathstroke, while wearing a bridesmaid’s dress.
– I forgot to mention Lance, but he pops up briefly (and soberly) in the fantasy sequences to tell Oliver that he couldn’t be prouder to have him as a son-in-law. Awww.
– The actors who played Tommy Merlyn and Roy Haynes weren’t available for the episode, but the showrunners get around that with a slightly awkward hologram goodbye scene, as Oliver leaves the fantasy world for good. I think they sell it, on balance, but it’s touch and go for a minute.
– Legends of Tomorrow fans may have noticed that Firestorm and Heat Wave are conspicuous by their absence, despite playing big roles in the previous crossover episode. We don’t get so much as a line that explains their absence, so the producers are probably hoping no-one notices.
– No room for Flashback City this week, for obvious reasons. Dolph Lundgren will just have to wait.
Arrow Season 5 is available to buy and download on pay-per-view VOD.