Arrow premiere recap: The end in the beginning
Oliver Queen takes a trip down memory lane in the sentimental yet surprisingly destructive season 8 premiere.
Well, Arrow kicked off its eighth and final season by doing something it has never done before: [SPOILER ALERT] It destroyed an entire freaking Earth. Specifically, Earth-2. On the one hand, it’s insane that the supposedly grounded show of the Arrowverse just did something cosmic and comic book-y. On the other hand, it actually works, which is a clear sign of how much the series has evolved over the past eight years. In fact, before the nostalgic season 8 premiere went full Armageddon, Arrow was busy reveling in how far it and its protagonist have come.
With “Starling City,” written by showrunner Beth Schwartz and consulting producer Marc Guggenheim, Arrow pays tribute to the rocky yet entertaining first season. Actually, it starts exactly where that one began: with Oliver making it off of Lian Yu. Except this time around, Oliver isn’t wearing a terrible wig and Batman’s cowl is the one with an arrow through it, not Deathstroke’s.
Once back in Starling City, Oliver tearfully reunites with his mother, Moira, which is the second sign (after Batman’s cowl) that Oliver isn’t on Earth-1 anymore and is well into his mission for the Monitor. From there, Oliver essentially begins to go through his own version of It’s a Wonderful Life as he sees what the world could’ve looked like if he hadn’t come home eight years ago. When they arrive at the Queen mansion (oh how I missed this ridiculous display of wealth), Oliver encounters his stepfather, Malcolm Merlyn (yikes!), and his step-brother Tommy, who receives a far warmer greeting than Malcolm. Unfortunately, there’s some bad news: Thea died on her 18th birthday from a Vertigo overdose. All this is a lot to take in for Oliver, and throughout the episode Stephen Amell finds both the sadness and humor in everything he experiences (or re-experiences) on Earth-2.
After dinner, Moira drops by Oliver’s room, which leads to one of the hour’s best scenes: Oliver, who was forced to leave his wife and kids, asks his mother if she would’ve left him and Thea to protect them. “Oliver… whether right or wrong, everything I’ve done has been to protect my children. It’s all a parent can do,” she says before Oliver tearfully embraces her once again. Moira has been dead for most of Arrow’s run, and seeing this reunion between mother and son felt really earned and was quite moving.
Of course, things are about to get weird for Oliver. When he breaks into Queen-Merlyn Consolidated to steal some dwarf star for the Monitor, he discovers that Adrian Chase is this Earth’s Green Arrow Hood (cue the amazingly dissonant Prometheus motif!) and that he’s working with Laurel/Black Siren. Even though they left things on good terms, Laurel isn’t too pleased that Oliver’s there, probably because she and Adrian have their hands full with the Dark Archer, who stole the dwarf star before Oliver could.
Oliver assumes Earth-2 is like Earth-1 and insists that the Dark Archer must be Malcolm Merlyn, even though Laurel and Adrian tell Oliver they ruled him out already. Well, Oliver quickly learns he’s wrong. The Dark Archer shows up when Oliver goes all “You have failed this city” on Malcolm, and in the ensuing skirmish Oliver discovers that Tommy is actually under the black hood, which is great!
In the wake of the attack on Malcolm, Moira does what all Moira Queens do: hires a John Diggle to protect Oliver. And I don’t mean Earth-2’s Diggle. I mean Earth-1 Diggle, who, with Felicity and Cisco’s help, tracked Oliver to Earth-2. Diggle scolds Oliver for insisting on working alone, which is so 2012 (or a brief period in 2018). But Oliver pushes Diggle away (read: knocks him out) because he wants to keep Diggle safe from the impending crisis for as long as possible.
From there, Oliver goes after Tommy but ends up being captured and strung up à la the season 1 finale. As Oliver dangles from the ceiling shirtless, Tommy proceeds to explain that he stepped to the dark side after Thea died and now he wants to make the city pay. In other words, he’s planning his own Undertaking. Once Tommy leaves, Oliver escapes his bondage the same way he did before, and Diggle shows up and lends a hand.
On the way out, Oliver reiterates that he doesn’t want Diggle tagging along on this adventure because seeing Moira and Tommy alive has convinced Oliver he’s the reason he lost everyone he loved on Earth-1. Diggle points out that Earth-2 isn’t better off than Earth-1. In fact, it’s clearly worse —Thea is dead and Tommy is supervillain — because Oliver wasn’t there. This isn’t the first time Oliver has had to be reminded that he’s not completely toxic to those around him and is actually a source of light. The show explored this idea in season 5’s “Disbanded,” which revealed how far Anatoly had fallen once Oliver left Russia.
Anyway, Diggle’s pep talk works. The two of them head back to Laurel’s secret bunker, recruit Black Siren and the Hood, and head out to stop Tommy from destroying the Glades with the dwarf star. Oliver takes out Rene and Dinah, who work for Tommy, and then confronts his best friend on the rooftop, a remix of season 1’s climactic finale fight between Oliver and Malcolm. This time around, though, Oliver doesn’t try to kill the Dark Archer. Instead, he delivers a powerful speech about choosing between light and darkness that convinces Tommy to abandon his insane plan.
With the city saved, Oliver and Diggle prepare to head home to Earth-2 with the dwarf star, but before they do, they drop by the precinct to say goodbye to Moira and Tommy. Unfortunately, this goodbye ends up being for good, because an anti-matter wave hits Earth-2 right as they open the breach and Oliver is forced to watch Moira and Tommy die in front of him again. At the last second, Oliver grabs Laurel and brings her through the breach before the anti-matter wave kills them. Turns out the crisis the Monitor won’t shut up about is here sooner than we thought.
Overall, I liked the premiere. The writers and stars promised it would be an ode to season 1, and it definitely succeeded in that respect. All the nods to the past were really fun and sweet, from Oliver and Moira’s reunion to the callback to the first time Oliver and Felicity met in season 1’s “Lone Gunmen.” That said, I wish the episode had a stronger reason for Oliver being on Earth-2 than to retrieve dwarf star particles. That seems like something the Monitor could’ve done for himself, unless there’s a reason he couldn’t.
Wall of Weird:
- In the flash-forwards: Team Arrow 2.0 struggle to work together when they go face to face with J.J., the leader of the Deathstroke Gang, for the first time. Charlie Barnett felt threatening from the moment he stepped on screen, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he does with the character.
- “Among the many misconceptions humanity holds dear is the fallacy that all beings are created equal. In truth, there are those who are greater. They are called heroes. But even among heroes, there are different echelons. The highest belong to those known as the paragons, and they are the only hope of all creation,” says the Monitor at the very beginning of the premiere, which is kinda odd.
- On Earth-2, Felicity runs Smoak Tech and Curtis is head of technology at Queen-Merlyn.
- The premiere didn’t answer one question: In The Flash season 2 episode “Enter Savitar,” it’s revealed that Robert Queen is the Green Arrow of Earth-2. So what happened that led to Adrian becoming him?
- By the end of the episode, Adrian deduces that Oliver is a from an alternate Earth and reveals that he’s friends with Bruce Wayne.
- “No, I’m just 10 steps ahead of you,” Oliver, quoting Adrian to Adrian, which was really satisfying.