Arrow: Starling City

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Wait, that’s not how it goes… 

It can be argued the modern era of superhero television got its start with Smallville. That show to one side, the more direct start would have to be Arrow, which spawned the CW DC Universe, which is up to five shows now and hundreds of characters. Stephen Amell has done an amazing job as Oliver Queen, but he decided to end that run. Arrow is back for one more season, its eighth and final, shortened to ten episodes compared the usual run of 22 or so. Last season ended with the departure of Felicity and a grim new future for Oliver- he would die in the coming crisis, as seen by the Monitor. Mind you, Oliver supposedly made a deal to save Barry and Kara, and now Barry’s being told he’s going to die, too, so something seems off here.

We were promised the final season, in addition to Oliver’s farewell, would have a lot of nods to the show’s own past. That’s certainly the case with “Starling City” which sort of goes back to the start of the show, but in a clever and new way. There’s a lot of complex storytelling going on here as they build to the momentous Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover at the end of the year, and some if it is fairly intricate, so there are going to be some spoilers below. I don’t see a way to write this without them.

The first few scenes almost appear to be retelling Oliver’s origin, but there are some subtle differences popping up if you’re paying attention. Among the differences are how long Oliver’s been missing, what mask is staked on the beach, and the homelife at the mansion when he gets home. Eventually, we learn we’re on Earth 2, often simply called the “evil Earth” as seen on Flash. It does give us a chance to see characters who have been gone for a while, including Moira Queen, Malcolm Merlyn, and Tommy Merlyn. The Monitor gets an odd opening monologue about the best kind of heroes, called Paragons, being the only hope of all creation, and the strong implication that Oliver is one of them. I’m going to guess that the heroes who headline their own shows are all Paragons, and maybe some of the Legends and a few more we meet along the way (possibly explaining all the guest stars already promised in Crisis).

The welcome home dinner doesn’t go as planned after various awkward topics (and lets’ face it, “our” Oliver doesn’t have a lot of good memories about Malcolm Merlyn, who is now married to his mother). Oliver goes to bed early, which is an excuse to steal a passcard from Moira and go sneak in to Applied Sciences, which I guess is this world’s Queen Industries. Going into action as Green Arrow, Oliver finds a lot of dead people with arrows in them, and then gets attacked by… the Hood, the identity he used when he started his crusade years ago. Their fight gets broken up by Black Canary Laurel Lance, with a new hairdo and costume, one finally like one of Canary’s comic ones. Things get even weirder for Oliver when he learns who the Hood is, and Laurel demands to know why Oliver is on “her” Earth.

Adjourning to the Bunker, the Hood works out on the salmon ladder in another nod to the show’s history, and Oliver and Laurel compare notes (and Earths). This Hood is someone Oliver has a lot of history with, none of it good, and there’s a lot of tension. Black Canary and the Hood are after the Dark Archer, who Oliver insists is Malcolm, and they say isn’t. Oliver goes to confront Malcolm, but gets interrupted by the Monitor, who lectures about mankind’s history and then reminds Oliver why he’s there- to get special white dwarf particles that only exist on this world. In the comics, when you hear “white dwarf” you generally run across Ray Palmer, but sadly he doesn’t even get a mention this episode. Getting the tour, Oliver tosses a few conversational barbs at Malcolm, before going off on his own to almost meet Felicity again for the first time before finding out what she’s doing on this Earth, not that we ever see her. Malcolm’s head of IT is at least strongly implied to be this world’s Curtis Holt, who we also don’t see as Oliver gets into his office and starts rooting around in the computers.

Malcolm is on his computer at the same time, but we never get to learn what he’s up to since the Hood bursts in and delivers Oliver’s early tag line, “You have failed this city.” The Hood’s attempted execution gets interrupted when the Dark Archer shows up to fight him. Between them both being there and the way Malcolm is acting, I’m confident Oliver is wrong about this Malcolm being a villain. The Hood does learn who the Dark Archer is, and is very surprised, which is odd as there’s no connection between these two men that I’m aware of or that they mention in the episode.

Dinah Drake comes to follow up on the attack, and she’s not going easy on Malcolm or anyone else. She has a lot of questions, since the Hood generally doesn’t target fine, upstanding businessmen. Rene is there in an unclear capacity, and shuts down the interview. There’s a welcome back party for Oliver that night, and Moira recreates another early Arrow moment by introducing Oliver to his new bodyguard, John Diggle. We fairly soon learn that this is “our” Diggle, who borrowed Cisco’s gizmo to follow Oliver (how he knew which Earth to go to I’m not clear). Oliver wants John to go home, and is worried Diggle will die if Oliver lets him help. Diggle, of course, won’t go, and doesn’t accept the Monitor’s word as law that Oliver has to die.

The party that night, which might be at Club Verdant (there’s another throwback if so), has Oliver walking around alone a lot, which is odd for a party for him. It does let him slip out when he sees a suspicious group of people talking. Oliver gives Diggle the slip, follows his quarry, and then gets ambushed in turn, captured and chained up. This turns into a villain monologue, as this Dark Archer is following in the footsteps of “our” Malcolm, starting the Undertaking to destroy the Glades. The villain leaves to further his evil agenda, but at least Oliver is just chained up, not in a death trap. Oliver frees himself, fights a few thugs, and links up with Diggle as he escapes. They meet up with Black Canary and the Hood, who mock parts of the original Undertaking storyline. Oliver, drawing on experience this world’s heroes don’t have, figures out where they need to go and leads the charge. Diggle apparently planned ahead for this mission and brought his Spartan gear with him, although where Oliver’s Green Arrow costume came from is never explained. He didn’t have it on Lian Yu. There’s a truly epic fight between Oliver and the Dark Archer. The action is well done and indicative of the directing of James Bamford, part of the Arrow family behind the scenes from the beginning. Oliver appeals to the man behind the Dark Archer mask and finally manages to save the Glades, something he failed at in the original timeline/Earth.

This would be a decent end point for the episode, but they are packing a lot in this final season. Oliver gets the Dwarf Star material he needs, and the Hood figures out who Oliver actually is, crediting a quote to Bruce Wayne that, on our Earth, is from Sherlock Holmes. Oliver goes to check on the captured Dark Archer and tries to offer some encouragement for the future. Most of the supporting cast shows up in the police station for a truly shocking final scene. The anti-matter wall from the comics that was in “Flash of the Lightning” on Flash this week shows up as the skies go red. The Crisis has come to Earth 2. On camera, we see many characters die before Oliver, Diggle, and one refugee manage to escape. Off-scene, everyone from this Earth dies- the dorky Barry, show-tune singing Joe West, the evil characters like Deathstorm Killer Frost, Zoom, and, unless they managed a last minute escape, Jesse Quick and her father, Harrison Wells (one of the first we met). In the comics, Earths were destroyed and characters that had been around since the start of comic books died or were retconned out of history. This seems to be just as high stakes.

Last season, the secondary scenes were flash-forwards to the future of Star City and the next generation of heroes. That continues here as we see the follow up to last season’s finale, with the wall between Star City and the Glades coming down. William is hosting a social event, where the various well-to-do have differing opinions about the reunification. Vasquez, a man we haven’t met before, speaks up for William and the vigilantes, who are at the party in civilian clothes. The team is there to protect Vasquez, and things start unraveling when hothead Mia ignores everyone to go off on her own. Naturally, she finds something she shouldn’t, and general chaos erupts. The bad guys, apparently a gang patterned on Deathstroke, get away with Vasquez, and the team bickers.

Reassembling at the bunker, the team plans out a way to save Vasquez. Connor is in charge at this point, which doesn’t sit well with Mia. They charge off to the rescue, the plan goes awry, and Deathstroke, the new one (Connor’s brother, apparently Diggle’s son), gets away with some kind of gadget he needed Vasquez to unlock. Deathstroke remarks, after punching out Mia, that the city belongs to him now, which bodes ill. Connor apologizes for his plan not working, and Mia accepts it with the calm grace that is her hallmark.

What I liked: They came out of the gate with a bang and packed a lot into a high-energy, well-written episode. The details were great, the slight differences from “our” Earth were fun to watch for. I liked how the story played out. Diggle going after Oliver made perfect sense. The nods to show history were well executed. It seems the season is going to be a kind of scavenger hunt, with Oliver, and now Diggle, Earth-hopping to get special things the Monitor needs. I like the scrappy future team, if they can just tone down Mia’s attitude. The action was great, fights well mapped out.

What I didn’t: I’m going to preface this with I loved the episode, so there are mostly quibbles. I don’t get where Oliver’s costume and weapons came from. They contradicted their own history as far as who the Hood is on this Earth. Hood’s shock at seeing who the Dark Archer was didn’t really play for me since the characters have no connection. It felt a bit odd that there was no mention of Jesse Quick or her never identified “team” she was working with on this world, although there was so much going on, I’m not sure how they would have managed it unless it was a newspaper or tv story in the background.

I’m going to be sorry to see Arrow go, but, if this is an indicator, they’re going out on a high note. I’ll give this a solid 4 out of 5. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

 

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