Arrow recap: Grieving the destruction of an Earth
Arrow’s third season is one of its most uneven (albeit interesting) ones, so following up the excellent season 8 premiere with an episode that draws heavily on season 3 is a weird flex. That being said, it works for the most part. In “Welcome to Hong Kong,” Arrow explores the emotional toll of the premiere and what happens when you let grief and guilt drive you. “Crisis on Infinite Earths” definitely looms over Arrow’s final season, but so does the past in interesting ways so far.
We begin with Oliver waking up in Hong Kong to find the Monitor, who redirected him, Diggle, and Laurel there as they fled the destruction of Earth-2, waiting for him. Although the Monitor is annoyed that Oliver disobeyed him by interfering in the affairs of a parallel Erath and saving Laurel, he still gives him another mission: acquiring a scientist named Dr. Robert Wong. Why? Well, the Monitor refuses to share and simply disappears as Diggle bursts into the room and warns Oliver that a local gang is attacking them.
After fighting through the gang, Oliver and Diggle are ready to dive right into the Monitor’s latest for them, but the same can’t be said for Laurel, who is understandably more concerned about what happened to her Earth. Oliver tells her Earth-2 is gone, but Laurel refuses to believe it. She sets off to find someone to fix the extrapolator and get her back to her friends and family on Earth-2.
Arrow hasn’t always known what to do with Laurel, giving Katie Cassidy weird and clunky plotlines here and there. Thankfully, this isn’t one of those times. The exploration of Laurel’s grief over the loss of Earth-2 is some of the best material Cassidy has ever had on the show and yields one of her best performances. As the episode unfolds, Laurel essentially goes through the five stages of grief, spending a lot of time on anger and denial. You can’t help but feel for her as she holds a tech guy at gunpoint when he fails to open a breach to Earth-2 for her because it just disappeared. What elevates this entire arc is how the show ties it back to her redemption story. Laurel’s upset because she lost everyone she loves, but also because she feels guilty that she, a former supervillain, survived when all those good people didn’t. It’s stirring stuff, and thankfully Lyla, who has dealt with her own survivor’s guilt, is there to help remind her that the best thing she can do is honor those she lost by continuing down her path of redemption. (Even more impressive about Cassidy’s performance is that she likely did this while also preparing for her directorial debut in the following episode.)
While all that is going, Oliver and Diggle team up with Tatsu, who became Hong Kong’s defender when she left the Crescent Order after giving them the Lotus cure in season 4. They manage to track Dr. Wong down, but China White (surprise guest star Kelly Hu!) and the triad show up and kidnap him. In the fray, Oliver ignores innocent civilians as he chases after her, but she gets away. From there, they quickly discover that China White wants Dr. Wong because he recreated the Alpha/Omega virus, something that should’ve remained buried because it’s stupidly deadly and one of the weakest aspects of season 3. Seeing no other option, Oliver decides to offer China White a trade: the virus for the doctor. Haven’t we been down this road before? The answer is yes.
Tatsu points out that this gambit didn’t work when Maseo tried years ago and warns Oliver against singlemindedly devoting himself to a mission and letting his guilt drive him to sacrifice his humanity. In case you forgot, that’s what happened in season 3: In flashbacks, Oliver’s guilt over the death of Akio led to him torturing and murdering General Shrieve, and in the then-present-day story line, his guilt over Sara drove him to risk his humanity and his relationships with his entire team in order to defeat Ra’s al Ghul. This time around, Oliver feels guilty for Earth-2’s destruction because he disobeyed the Monitor’s orders. In the wake of that, Oliver needs to believe everything he does for the Monitor will be worth it because he’s sacrificed so much (read: his family) already.
Oliver ignores Tatsu’s warning and goes through with the plan. Naturally, things go sideways. China White hands Dr. Wong over to them, but the good doctor is wearing an explosive vest, and China White is the only one with the detonator. While Diggle goes after the Triad goons who took the virus and Oliver handles Dr. Wong, Tatsu goes after China White for the detonator. Unfortunately, China White manages to stab her in the gut and comes close to finishing the job, but Black Siren arrives in time and canary-cries China White into the water.
In the wake of Tatsu almost dying, Oliver realizes the folly of his gambit and the danger in blindly following the Monitor’s orders, consequences be damned. So instead of handing Dr. Wong over to the Monitor, Oliver decides to travel to Nanda Parbat to learn more information about Mar-Novu and whether he’s telling the truth.
Little does he know that the Monitor has someone else working for him: Lyla Michaels. At the end of the episode, Lyla meets with the Monitor, gives him grief for not warning her about Earth-2’s destruction before she sent Diggle there, and hands over Dr. Wong. The Monitor says that Earth-2 was a necessary sacrifice and that they need to insure that Oliver is prepared for what’s coming. It’s clear that they’ve been working together for a while. In fact, the episode hints that this partnership may go all the way back to Lyla’s army days. While helping Laurel grieve, Lyla shared a story about how she lost most of her unit while stationed abroad and prayed to every god possible to help her with his survivor’s guilt. Laurel asked if it helped, and Lyla says, “not exactly.” Is that when she met the Monitor for the first time? Definitely maybe!
The past also weighed heavily on the future story line. Mia, Zoe, and Connor end up having a tense meeting with J.J. Connor tries to reason with his brother by bringing up memories from their childhood of how J.J. used to stand up for him, but J.J. tells him that kid is dead and gone. In fact, while they were sitting there chatting, J.J. sent his men to infiltrate Team Arrow 2.0’s bunker and kidnap William because he wants to kill the unification project so that his gang can fill the power vacuum. It’s clear J.J.’s difficult childhood is driving his evil actions in the present day. Only time will tell if Connor will be able to sway his brother off of this dark path.
Wall of Weird:
- Arrow debuts a new saga sell in which Oliver declares he must become something more than the Green Arrow in order to stop the coming crisis.
- Oliver deciding to travel to Nanda Parbat reminds me of the final season of Justice League Unlimited, which also took a trip there in its final season.
- “His real name is Mar-Novu.” “You call that a real name?” Even when she’s grieving, Black Siren has snarky quips!