Arrow recap: Oliver vs. the final stage of grief
This week has been pretty mind-bending in superhero television. On Sunday, Watchmen dove into the secret history of superheroes in America via one man’s traumatic memories in one of the best episodes of the entire year. Now tonight, Barry and Ramsey spent some time in a mind-scape on The Flash, and Oliver and Laurel found themselves stuck in an alternate reality on Arrow. What a weird coincidence.
Anyway, we’re here to talk about Arrow. Written by Onalee Hunter and Maya Houston, and directed by David Ramsey, “Reset” traps Oliver and Laurel in a time loop alternate reality in which Quentin didn’t die. This isn’t the first time Arrow has pulled the “alternate reality” card on its characters. Most notably, the show did this in the “For the Man Who Has Everything”-like 100th episode, which saw the Dominators place Oliver and company in a world in which the Queen’s Gambit never went down and thus he never became the Green Arrow. Whereas that episode was about Oliver and friends realizing the fight never ends, “Reset” is kind of about the opposite in an unexpectedly beautiful way.
The episode begins with a stunned Oliver waking up on the couch of his Star City apartment right as Mia, Connor, and William cheerfully return home with some Big Belly Burger. The lack of angst should’ve been Oliver’s first clue that something wasn’t right. Even though the last thing he remembers is being tranquilized by Lyla, he nevertheless goes with it and heads off to some fundraiser at the Palmer Tech building. There, he runs into Diggle and Lyla, who claims that she’s actually a double agent and working against the Monitor. Ramsey’s use of long takes here heightens the sense that there is something wrong with this world.
As Oliver makes his way through the party, he eventually runs into the mayor: Quentin Lance. In the ensuing chat, Stephen Amell’s face conveys the sadness and confusion Oliver feels at seeing his fallen ally. Their reunion, though, gets interrupted by a hostage situation at the precinct. Oliver suits up and joins Quentin and Dinah on the scene. He infiltrates the precinct and disarms the mercenary as Quentin distracts him. But then a hidden bomb goes off and everything fades to white. And then, Oliver wakes right back up where he started: on a couch.
“Reset” continues like this, with Ramsey finding new and interesting ways to stage and shoot similar scenes over and over again. With each repeat, Oliver learns something new, but also the wrong something. He eventually meets up with Laurel, who is also trapped, and they realize Quentin’s death is the thing that restarts each loop. Unfortunately for them, no matter how much they try, they can’t stop Quentin from dying, which is hard for both of them to watch. How can they make it out this labyrinth of suffering?
On a later loop, Oliver, Laurel, and Quentin track down the mercenaries targeting Quentin to an abandoned warehouse — but Quentin gets shot in the fire fight. As Oliver continues fighting some mercenaries, Laurel tends to Quentin’s fatal wound, which gives her something she’s been dying for: a chance to say goodbye. This is not only her opportunity to make peace with Earth-1 Quentin’s death but also Earth-2’s, and Katie Cassidy and Paul Blackthorne deliver heart-wrenching performances in this moment. I was surprised by how much I wanted to see them get this catharsis. It turns out that’s what Laurel needed to experience to be free. The next time the reality resets, she’s gone.
In the penultimate loop, Lyla flat out tells Oliver how to win: He needs to stop fighting and accept the inevitable. Stubborn as always, Oliver ignores her and buckles down on saving Quentin. The two of them eventually return to the warehouse where Quentin died earlier and end up fighting their way through more mercenaries in a stunning oner. This time around, though, Quentin realizes that maybe he should stop trying to escape death and simply give in. And so he does.
Giving in? That’s a rather new concept for Oliver, which is why this entire time loop was designed as a learning experience. On the next go around, Oliver follows Quentin’s lead and accepts that Quentin will die. By doing so, Oliver also makes peace with the fact that he’s going to die in “Crisis,” because Oliver was holding out hope he could avoid death (which adds more layers to his quest to find a weapon that could kill Mar-Novu). Lyla and Mar-Novu needed Oliver to recognize that’s not possible. Part of me wishes the episodes leading up to this had hinted a bit more that Oliver still hadn’t reached the final stage of grief, but the beat still works here emotionally.
What I particularly liked about this lesson, though, is how it works on a meta-level, too. In the same way that Oliver must make peace with his fate, the same goes for Arrow fans. Arrow is ending, and we just have to accept that, even though television has taught us that things never end.
Once Oliver learns his lesson, he and Laurel wake up and find themselves on Lian-Yu with Diggle, Connor, Mia, and William. Apparently, this is where their last mission will occur. Does the episode explain what the nature of that alternate reality was? Not really. And I’m glad it doesn’t because that’s not the point. The purpose of the episode was Oliver’s emotional journey, and I’m glad that the script lets the mystery be when it comes to the how of the time loop.
Wall of Weird:
- Before exiting the time loop, Lyla tells Oliver that she’s been working with the Monitor for a long time and lied about it to protect her family.
- This episode reminded me that I wish we could’ve gotten an episode that really focused on Oliver and Lyla’s relationship. One of my favorite low-key moments is in season 3’s “The Brave and the Bold” when Oliver and Lyla quote Amanda Waller to each other, a moment of recognition.