How did we get here? Arrow just aired a 100th episode that included aliens, a Cyberwoman, shared hallucinations, Supergirl, The Flash, a sidekick whose superpower is magic rags, a time-ship, and the return of most of its main characters from the last five seasons.
We’ve come so far since what Arrow was in its beginning — some would argue too far — and the narrative cracks from the pressure of trying to fuse together the show Arrow once was with the show it has been forced to become, because of the larger shared fictional universe it launched, shows in this episode. Thankfully, “Invasion!” gets enough nostalgic hits in to make it work, while also giving us an exciting (batshit crazy) final act to launch us into the final part of the superhero crossover. Guys, we’ll always have those creepy Arrow character holograms and, frankly, that makes me happy. Let’s talk about Arrow’s 100th episode:
“Some things you just can’t fix,” Sara (Caity Lotz) tells Hallucination!Laurel (Katie Cassidy) as she hugs her goodbye in “Invasion!” the third part of this week’s “Heroes v. Aliens” crossover event. It’s one sentence that encompasses the entire lesson Oliver (Stephen Amell), Thea (Willa Holland), Ray (Brandon Routh), Diggle (David Ramsey), and Sara must accept in order to leave their Dominator-caused shared hallucination. More than that, it’s the lesson the entire CW superhero universe (most especially Arrow and The Flash) has been trying to hammer back into its narrative since the start of the season; a superhero universe in search of a sense of consequence.
For The Flash, it’s been the slow, tough lesson Barry (Grant Gustin) has been learning through Flashpoint. On Arrow, Oliver has always known this truth; he learned it roughly five minutes into the flashbacks and has been relearning it pretty much every episode since. But it’s one thing to know something. It’s another thing altogether to figure out how to get out of bed each morning and live a meaningful life with the knowledge of life’s harsh realities.
Both Barry and Oliver have to ask themselves during this season: If you had the chance to save the people you had lost, would you? Oliver told Barry in last night’s The Flash that, if he had the chance, he would make the same decision Barry did. He would try to save his parents. In tonight’s episode, he is given that chance (let’s call it Arrowpoint, shall we?), and he makes a different decision than Barry did.To be fair, Barry is the eternal optimist, while Oliver is the eternal pessimist. Oliver is still trying to accept that he is worthy of happiness. The 100th episode felt like a big step on that journey.
Interestingly, it’s Thea who wants to stay in the shared hallucination the Dominators have created for the non-metas on Team Arrow. The scene that sees Thea telling Oliver she wants to stay is one of my favorites from the night, not only because the Queen siblings’ relationship has always been one of the best-developed of the show, but because Thea’s choice is so completely understandable. Frankly, the Star City Thea and Oliver have to go back to does suck. They don’t have their parents. They don’t have Laurel. They don’t have their super sweet mansion or their billions of dollars. Plus, it’s pretty much always night. Wouldn’t you choose the option with family banter, killer bathrooms, and sunshine?
The version of Starling City we see here is fascinating. Not only because it is reminiscent of the world of Season 1 Arrow, but because it is Oliver’s very own Flashpoint. It’s the show Arrow could have become or the Flashpoint reality that could have happened if The CW really wanted to take a risk and completely reboot its narrative universe for more than half an episode, for more than a cost of a Baby Sara (#neverforget). It’s that sense of consequence The Flash and Arrow have been searching the pages of their DC Comics source material for when, really, they should be making bolder choices.
Though the shared hallucination gimmick might lack long-term narrative consequence and feel like a bit of a “Look, It’s The 100th Episode!” plot device, it works because of the performance of all of the actors (including many returning ones) and the sentiment that this show has genuinely inspired in people. Even if Arrow doesn’t make you feel things in Season 5, it probably made you feels things in seasons one through four. If you’re here for the 100th episode, you care about this show and its characters on some level and, like any good 100th episode, this installment is a love letter to its fans.
Though it worked to see so many returning faces and Season 1 elements in “Invasion!”, I was a bit sad that Arrow was robbed the opportunity of having a 100th episode outside of the already considerable demands of the crossover event, which were sometimes at odds with what this episode was trying to do. Creating nostalgia for the grounded family drama that was Arrow Season 1 while also capping the episode with an escape from an alien spaceship and an imminent attack on planet Earth is a bit of a tonal shift. This episode was trying to do far too much and was therefore a bit of a mess, but it’s hard to dislike an hour of TV that is earnestly trying to please its fans in so many different ways.
Some fan service tactics worked better than others. It was nice to see Laurel and Sara’s sisterly relationship again and for them to get a goodbye because they never had that chance. (Though I wanted to see more Thea and Laurel, as they became very close before Laurel’s death. It would have been nice to see Thea discuss her decision to leave Team Arrow with her bestie.) I was less into the exploration of Laurel and Oliver’s romance. It’s hard for me to believe that these two end up happy in any corner of the multiverse, at least not one that includes a backstory where Oliver so disrespected her in the early years of their relationship. (And I am even less convinced that there is a version of the multiverse where Lance approves of Oliver marrying Laurel.)
It was also nice to see so many familiar villains come back, most notably Deathstroke and Damien Darhk, but the former never took his mask off (and, let’s be real, it was Manu Bennett‘s Slade Wilson, not his Deathstroke persona that made his turn as villain so effective), and the latter just popped in to throw some half-hearted threats at Sara. Watching Ray, Diggle, Thea, Oliver, and Sara team up to take them down was nice, especially the moment when Thea shot an arrow into Sara hand.
The returning characters who worked best were the ones who were the best developed during their time on the show (i.e. Laurel and Moira), but Arrow missed a chance for the ultimate emotional punch by making its “real” characters ignorant to what was going on for so much of the episode. It was fun to see Susannah Thompson (a reminder of what this show lost when it lost Moira), but it wasn’t really Moira. It was a hallucination of her. These scenes became so much more effective when Oliver and Company were forced to interact with their fake loved ones with the full knowledge of what they had lost. Diggle’s Arrow voice was pretty good, though.
Back in the real-life Star City, the nerds and recruits were trying desperately to figure out where their friends were abducted to. Now, you and I see characters getting beamed up by aliens and we think space, right? Well, it took the superhero brain trust an entire episode to work that out. To be fair, I didn’t expect that the aliens would be Jewish, so I’ll give that find to Felicity and Co.
While the nerds were making an alien translation device and dropping movie references, Barry and Kara were trying to help the recruits fight crime. Rene is not into it, which isn’t out of character because we don’t really know his character well enough to judge what he might think of all-powerful metahumans and aliens. I actually really liked Rene’s critique that superheroes like Barry and Kara think they are making the world a better place, but don’t address many of the structural problems that places like Star City have (I may have extrapolated his argument a bit there).
However, rather than let Rene keep his critique or have a more complicated stance (i.e. you guys can totally help me, but my life isn’t all ice cream cones and puppies, just so you know), Arrow quickly resolved any tension here after Kara and Barry saved the day. It felt like a quick about face for an interesting choice, much like Thea’s change of heart regarding whether or not she wanted to stay in the hallucination during the commercial break.
Ultimately, Oliver and Co. escape the shared hallucination through a portal in Smoak Technologies (because why not?) and shoot their way off of an alien ship using guns and a shuttle they have never used before (because why not?). Then, the Waverider swoops in just in time to pull them away before the Dominator fleet can destroy them and it’s looks like the Millennium Falcon saving a Taelon shuttle from the Cylon fleet. (Yes, my nerdiness just peaked with that sentence, but the nerdiness of this crossover event deserves it. [Editor’s Comment: And you are not wrong]).
It might seem like a good time for a well-deserved nap, but a superhero team’s work is never done. Gideon is able to translate a random snippet of alien language Ray happened to overhear while Team Oliver was roaming the halls of the alien spacecraft. The general gist: The weapon is ready. Let’s go blow up some Earths. Oy vey. Where a Rip Hunter when you need one?
— “What, do you think you’re moving in?” “I wish.” Sara appreciates the sweet digs that are the Queen mansion. Man, I miss that set.
— “ETs are real. Unfortunately, they’re dickwads who are gonna kill us.” I wish Curtis’ explanation of what was going was the lead-in to this episode.
— “I thought you were a rich, entitled punk.” “I was.” Oliver has some serious self-awareness in this universe. Do we really believe that, if The Queen’s Gambit hadn’t sunk, he would have gone on such a journey of personal growth?
— Felicity and Diggle were weirdly put on the back burner in this episode. I know this was a busy episode, but Felicity and Diggle have been integral parts of this universe, so it was sad they didn’t get more to do. It was also strange that the episode almost completely ignored its Olicity history, which I know is a contentious topic for some, but has been a big part of this show.
— “No one can know my secret.” OK, it was pretty cool hearing Diggle deliver Oliver’s signature line. Does anyone else kind of want to watch the Arrowpoint spinoff that has war veteran John Diggle become the Green Arrow, with Oliver Queen as his sidekick?
— Ragman saying normal things in his Ragman voice is really bizarre. I want an entire web series of Rory in his rags just doing normal things like ordering pizza.
— “Stranger danger. Might want to ease up on the info dump.” — Felicity
— “You’ve got everything. Everything, man. Stop trying to throw it all away.” I love that Diggle can’t help but give Oliver sage advice, even when they are supposed to be hostile strangers. He just can’t quit him.
— “You should have taken him up on his offer to carry you. It’s awesome.” — Rory and Diggle obviously have different opinions of being whooshed away by Barry.
— Why is everyone being so cold towards Supergirl?! Kara is awesome.
— “I said I’m sorry.” “In a text.” The way Sara defends Laurel here is my favorite.
— “You’re lucky I’m not a trained assassin or anything.” Cue vaguely exotic League of Assassins’ melody. This was too overt… even for Arrow.
— “Last night, someone reminded me that I have everything, and I don’t want to give it up. I’m afraid I’m gonna give it up.” When Stephen Amell cries, it’s really hard not to cry, too.
— I love that while Oliver, Ray, and Diggle remember vague flashes from their past few years, Sara remembers something relevant: yesterday’s alien invasion.
— “Smoak Technologies building. Maybe the reason why this place feels so strange is because that’s how we get out of here.” This makes absolutely no sense, but Diggle said it so it is wise.
— Kara and Barry’s high five is everything.
— “It’s too bad Tommy couldn’t make it, though.” “They have him working triple shifts at the hspital right now. And Chicago isn’t exactly next door.” *wink*
— Felicity trying to be cool after Sara steals Ray away from her at the rehearsal dinner. Rewatch this scene if you did not notice it the first time because it is the most real party moment The CW has ever pulled off.
— “This is your life now.” “No, it isn’t.”
— I’m a little bit sad that Thea changed her mind because I was kind of hoping for a Buffy-style arc where Thea is forced to leave and then gets really mad at her friends from pulling her from the blissful ignorance of the hereafter and then lets them know about her anger in musical episode. Just me?
— “There’s Flash and Supergirl and people with actual powers now.” Thea’s explanation for why the world doesn’t need the crime-fighting Queens was a little meta, like it was Arrow’s own insecurities about why The CW no longer needs Arrow.
— “I want you to be well. I want you to be happy. I love you, Thea.” Oliver has always treated Thea so gently, like he could break her (even though she is one of the strongest characters on this show) and it is so sweet.
— “I didn’t make those sacrifices for a reward. I did it because I thought it was right.” — Oliver
— “I had a change of heart, OK? Like I said: I can’t lose my family again.” — Thea, to Oliver
— “The person you fell in love with, that’s not me. And I never deserved that love, and you always deserved better.” — Oliver, to Laurel
— It wasn’t weird to me that Oliver saw his dead loved ones before he left the hallucination world. It was weird to me that Felicity and Roy were there, too. They’re still alive, dude. They don’t have to join the Arrow Museum Hall of Holograms.
— “OK, so how do we find our way out of an alien spacecraft?” “This way.” This is such a dude thing for Ray to do. Confidently pretend like he knows where they’re going, even though he has absolutely no clue.
— “Certain design elements are universal.” — Ray, acting like the Dominators shop at Space Ikea.
— “I’m hoping that between you, me, Ray, and Sara, someone can fly these things.” Five seconds later: Thea is the one who figures out how to pilot the alien shuttle.
— “Hold on, we’ve got incoming.” “How do you know?” But, really, Digg.
— “This is twice as many spaceships as I thought I’d ever be on.” Thea was suitably impressed by the Waverider. Um, I kind of want her to join the Legends crew? And, was it just me, or did she and Nate have some chemistry?
— Legends of Tomorrow is kind of the perfect finale for this crazy crossover. Tonally, it can get away with the alien shenanigans that are going on because it is this crazy every week. Seriously, there was an episode about Civil War zombies. This is just another Thursday for them.
— What if we have a four-part crossover every week? I mean, the entire cast and crew would drop dead from exhaustion, but it would be fun while it lasted.