Arrow ended 2016 with a hell of an episode. “What We Leave Behind” gave us a little bit of everything: humor, betrayal, angst, romance, and what seems like a highly unlikely resurrection (but, as Felicity says, in Star City, “people who are dead turn out to be secretly alive pretty much every Wednesday).
In many ways, the midseason finale worked better as a landmark 100th episode than last week’s actual 100th episode did. By flashing back to Season 1 and linking the Prometheus plot to Oliver’s actions at the beginning of his tenure as a masked vigilante, “What We Leave Behind” engaged with the question of Oliver’s growth and legacy better than the hallucination-heavy “Invasion!” did. And with some crazy plot twists to boot!
Let’s break down everything that happened in the Arrow midseason finale:
Evelyn lets her true allegiance known.
It’s hard to believe that this episode started out as a lighthearted holiday romp (or at least as lighthearted as Arrow ever gets). However you feel about the extension of Team Arrow with the new recruits, it certainly fills up the Arrow Lair, making the holidays that much more cheery for still-in-hiding John.
Of course, it couldn’t last, especially in an episode that began with Evelyn clearly outlining the faces and addresses of each and every member of Team Arrow, despite the stockings of lies she gifted to them. And despite the fact that she called them family. I would have liked to get more from Evelyn in this episode or in the episodes leading up to her exposure outlining exactly why she is so anti-Arrow.
We get a bit of it here, though — she thinks Oliver is a villain Star City needs to be saved from — but that is vague and kind of hypocritical given Prometheus’ M.O. Of course, it is much harder to have these character-building scenes when they only person Evelyn could have a heart-to-heart with about it is hiding behind a mask for twist-reveal reasons. Without that motivation, however, Evelyn comes off as a cold-hearted liar. Hopefully, her motivation will be more clearly outlined in future episodes.
Though we might not get Evelyn’s interiority post-reveal, we do get to see how the rest of Team Arrow reacts. They’re understandably pissed, shocked, and also scared. Evelyn knows so much about them and, now, they must assume that Prometheus knows this, too. They let Artemis into their lives, into their family, and, in return, she betrayed them. She has Billy’s blood on her hands more than Oliver does.
Prometheus is the son of one of Oliver’s Season 1 victims.
While we might not have gotten more elaboration on Evelyn’s anti-Arrow motivation, we learned some crucial information about Prometheus via — wait for it — some effective, entertaining flashbacks. I know. I’m as surprised as you are. This just goes to show how flashbacks don’t have to suck all the life out of the episode. They can also be some of the highlights.
In this case, the flashbacks bring us back to Season 1, when Oliver was still a slave to The List, sticking arrows in people and crossing off their names like Little Bunny Foo Foo on crack. It was a simpler, more vicious time when Big Belly Burger was still a set and Diggle would give weekly speeches about how Oliver should maybe try not killing people.
It turns out that Diggle was right. One of the people Oliver killed in Season 1, a Justin Claybourne had a son, a son who would grow up to become a Prometheus-shaped person. Or so goes the latest Prometheus theory. It’s unclear how well Prometheus knew his father. Sure, Oliver shouldn’t have murdered him (as Diggle outlines again and again: murder is bad, Oliver), but Claybourne was also the worst. Claybourne ran a pharmaceutical company that was getting rich by weaponizing tuberculosis and selling the cure for ridiculous prices (and only to the rich).
Oliver gave Claybourne a chance to repent and change his ways, but the shady businessman did not, apparently not believing that The Hood would actually kill him. He was wrong. Four years later, his son has gotten training in Russia, found a mask and some throwing stars, and has plans to turn everyone in Oliver’s life against him. Which brings us to the big twist, angsty of the night…
Prometheus gets Oliver to kill Billy.
You have to admit: Prometheus is a pretty out-of-the-box thinker when it comes to punishing Oliver. Rather than simply killing one of Oliver’s loved ones (that is so Season 2), Prometheus gets Oliver to accidentally kill Billy, Felicity’s boyfriend. It’s a good twist, made even better by the fact that a) Oliver doesn’t try to cover it up (he’s learning!) and b) Team Arrow doesn’t blame Oliver.
Of course, just because Felicity recognizes that this isn’t Oliver’s fault, doesn’t mean things won’t be tense between them moving forward. As with the Evelyn twist, this would have been even more effective if we knew Billy as someone other than Felicity’s detective boyfriend. We pretty much only ever saw them have conversations about the secrets Felicity was keeping from him. What did they do the other 99 percent of the time? Or was that their entire relationship?
Still, seeing Oliver’s broken heart when he realizing that he has not only killed a good, innocent man, but someone who is important to one of the most important people in his life … yeah, that gutted me.
Curtis and Paul break up.
Elsewhere in the romance-ruining moments of this episode, Curtis finally tells his husband the truth about his time moonlighting as a vigilante. Paul is understandably pissed. Not only is he worried about Curtis, who has been injured more times than he can remember since he joined Team Arrow (including in this episode), but he’s hurt because Curtis has been lying to him for months.
This was another moment that could have hit harder if we had spent more time with Paul, but it was nice that the relationship got so much time in a midseason finale that already had so much going on. As with Felicity and Oliver, we’re really beginning to see the negative consequences joining Team Arrow can bring to Curtis’ life. However, most especially in Curtis’ storyline, we saw that, for the members of Team Arrow (lying spies notwithstanding) those negative consequences are usually worth it for the good things it also brings, which is an oddly optimistic theme for an episode that also included its hero-protagonist killing a idealistic cop. But, hey, it’s the holidays!
The montage of misery.
That’s what I’m calling the last few minutes of this episode, which saw Oliver lamenting in voiceover about how everything he touches turns to ash while the people in his life cry, hug pillows, or walk stupidly into traps (John, I expect better from you). This description might make it sound like I was against the montage of misery, but I am not. I thought it was great, most especially because, after Oliver finished his (understandable, characteristic) moping, Susan told him his angst was ridiculous.
Granted, Susan doesn’t know the whole story (which is probably one of the reasons why Oliver is so drawn to her), but she’s also right. As was the case with Curtis’ rationale for staying on Team Arrow despite the problems it has caused with his husband, Susan tells Oliver that we all affect one another in good ways and bad. It can’t all be puppies and rainbows. Legacy is complicated and, as Arrow continues to interrogate its own as it moves through its fifth season, it is beginning to get better at balancing the glory with the shame, the heroism with the villainy.
Unlike some of the other supporting, obviously doomed relationships on this show, the one between Susan and Oliver feels somewhat earned. She has gotten him to open up and is someone with whom he can kind of drop the responsible leader persona. I trust Susan about as far as I can throw her (which is considerably less far that Oliver or Diggle could throw her), but, for now, she’s trying to knock some common sense into that thick, stubborn head of Oliver’s.
Laurel is back?
Never a show to miss throwing in a resurrection when it has a couple of extra minutes, “What We Leave Behind” ended with Oliver walking into the lair to inexplicably find an alive and well Laurel. Um… yeah, I don’t know where to go with this one.
Did Barry change the timeline again? Did someone dip Laurel in a Flashpoint-restored Lazarus Pit? Is Oliver hallucinating? Has Human Target seriously upped his game? Do all of Oliver’s ex-girlfriends have secret identical twins? If Laurel really is alive, is she secretly Prometheus? All questions to ponder over the hiatus. For now, I will head into my TV-lite holidays with a lingering affection for a show that is riding its melodramatic, resurrection-happy formula into a pretty solid fifth season.
Rating: ★★★★ Very good
— “I get you the intel, I get to be there when you talk them down.” Guys, Evelyn is cold.
— “I thought we decided not to talk about aliens.” — National Treasure Thea Queen
— Thea is appropriately weirded out by the fact that Susan is Oliver’s date. Last time she had a real conversation with Susan, she was duping her into revealing information about Oliver’s administration by pretending to be Thea’s friend.
— “I see you’ve reclaimed your optimism.” — Susan, to Oliver. Has she met him?
— “I just want them to love you as much as I l…ike you.” — Felicity, to Billy. OK, this is pretty sad to reflect on now. Poor Felicity. Poor Billy.
— “Who needs a fancy party at city hall when all the most important people are right here.” “Aww, shucks.” Give me more Team Arrow family dinners, please.
— Tonight’s episode hinted that Rene has a secret son or daughter. Do with this information what you will.
— “The best part is this is going to piss Oliver off when we hang them up all over the place.”
— Oliver’s favorite Christmas movie list is very solid. Also, I love that he is mining his shared hallucination on board an alien ship for his mayoral holiday speech… and that he is referring to it as having “watched” It’s a Wonderful Life.
— “You must be the super hot reporter.” — Felicity, to Susan
— The visual transitions from present-day to flashback and vice versa were on point (Arrow pun) in this episode. In one cut, we got a Big Belly Burger bag to a Big Belly Burger bag. In another, we got an arrow to a Christmas tree ornament.
— In general, the direction in tonight’s episode was amazing. Two especially cool parts included: the slow-motion flip and arrow in the Arrow v. Prometheus scene and the intercuts between present and flashback as Oliver was going up that escalator.
— “You know I always thought she had a sort of Children of the Corn vibe.” — Curtis, on Evelyn. Kind of harsh, no?
— “Think in Flashpoint, I maybe dated her in high school?” “It’s an alternate universe, not an alternate reality.” — Rene and Rory
— “What happens if I don’t?” “I’ll aim higher.” I have missed Season 1 Oliver’s dickish quips.
— Prometheus appearing behind Billy as the light flicker in and out? Very creepy. Well done, Arrow .
— “First human remains, now baby pictures.” — Rory, contemplating the craziness of his life.
— “Facial recognizance isn’t exactly baby friendly.” — Felicity, before we find out that it actually is relatively baby friendly.
— “What I’m saying is that, one day, your actions might have some unintended consequences.” — Diggle, to Oliver, in the flashbacks. I think Arrow really missed an opportunity here by not having Diggle then turn to the camera and wink.
— Oliver mentioned that Prometheus seemed to be trained by the same “woman I met in Russia.” Is this someone we have met already? No one is coming to mind.
— “There are two types of every legacy; two version of what we leave behind. There’s the good and the bad. You just really have a focus on the really bad.” — Thea, succinctly delivering the theme of the episode after a hilarious story about the time the Queens went with Tommy to the U.S. Open.
— “Felicity, I do believe in magic.” — Oliver, in a flashback to Felicity’s Season 1 office and the Olicity Season 1 dynamic.
— “You’re not a hero; you’re a killer, and I’m going to show you that. I’m going to show how everything you touch dies.” — Prometheus,
— “I think that all of you should get as far away from me where you possibly can.” “Oliver, we are exactly where we are supposed to be.” OK, this moment was really sweet.
— … Too bad it is soon followed up by Diggle being caught, which presumably means he will be going back to prison. This is probably the worst possible time Oliver could lose Diggle’s steady advice and guidance.
— “No matter what’s going on in your life, shutting people out is the last thing you should do.” — Susan
— “Hi, Ollie.” — Laurel