So I’ve had a lot going on lately, and I kind of forgot the “Heroes v Aliens” episode of Arrow was also its 100th episode. That milestone may have attributed to my feeling that someone was going to die or at leave the show last night. Hey, you never know.
We have one more entry to wrap up the DC TV superhero crossover, tonight’s Legends of Tomorrow, so I don’t want to go too much into my overall thoughts yet. But I will say the other installment (I say “other” in the singular sense because let’s face it, Supergirl got the shaft) was pretty different from this one in tone and style. Last night’s Arrow episode, “Invasion!”, took a wonderful sci-fi detour from the show’s normally gritty and realistic style. It was good! I lamented recently that I wished there’d be more meta heroes on The Flash, but praised Arrow for finally bringing in someone to the team with powers since they were all regular fighters. If that simple aspect helps the show feel more superhero-ish than you can bet a visit to an alien spaceship makes me feel right at home.
But we technically didn’t spend a lot of time in the spaceship itself because our heroes — Oliver, Diggle, Thea, Sara, and Ray — were projected into a type of dream world in which characters long dead returned to the show. They took part in a shared hallucination, thanks to the Dominator’s matrix, where everyone existed in a happier place. Though I have some serious questions for Diggle.
Executive producer Marc Guggenheim spoke to reporters about the episode explaining, “This was sort of Oliver’s version of ‘Flashpoint’ and it’s a little bit Oliver’s version of ‘The Girl Who Has Everything’ from last year’s Supergirl. There’s a reason why these stories are iconic or familiar tropes, even in comic books. It’s because when you show the protagonist the path not taken and you basically put them in the situation where they can choose to stay on that path or go back to their life with all of its ugly aspects and challenges, and they choose the selfless choice of returning to that ugly past, it makes your character stronger because it forced Oliver to double down on his mission and commit to this life with all of its losses and failures and challenges.”
It was an interesting episode. While the returning cast members were a welcomed sight (to me, anyway), it also provided several callbacks to past seasons of the series. Oliver running in the woods is a running gag of sorts. Thea’s hōzen gift, Deathstroke, the Felicity/Ray relationship (which I really, really liked on the show but also didn’t make a lot of sense as Ray’s fantasy), and even Thea aiming an arrow at Sara (this time she catches it instead of being killed by it). But when the characters realized it was a shared hallucination, Thea was the one person who thought, “Hey, this is actually so much better than my normal life. Why would I leave?” It was a thought that could have only really come from Thea.
While most of the characters have lost loved ones they’d want to be with again, she’s the only one who didn’t have much going for her in the real world. Ray and Sara are traveling with a great crew and doing a lot of good, Oliver has his never-ending mission to save Star City (which is not necessarily enjoyable but something he feels compelled to do), and Diggle has a wife and baby. Thea has given up crime fighting to work in the Mayor’s office, which hasn’t given her much character development, and she was seeing a guy who we haven’t caught sight of in a while. At that point, I honestly wondered if Willa Holland was moving on from Arrow. And they made us believe it for a while too. While in terms of the show itself I wasn’t convinced leaving the matrix without her would actually work, we didn’t have to wonder about that for long as she quickly changed her mind and rejoined the heroes. “Ok,” I thought, she’s safe.
And then I thought Oliver was going to die. I know, I know, the show is called Arrow, it would have been one hell of a big deal if Stephen Amell left, but considering the dilemma Thea had just gone through, I now wondered if they were setting her up as the lead. When they were just about to exit the matrix, Oliver gets visions (for no real discernible reason) of his mom and dad, Felicity, Tommy, Roy, and Laurel which give him the inspiration to go on in his fight. This didn’t seem like something the Dominators would want going through his head while they tried to keep them captive, so it was something he already knew. They just confirmed he was on the right path. It felt like closure.
Was that what star Stephen Amell was teasing when he said, “I do really believe that this season is sort of a throw-down-the-gauntlet year for us, where we’re either going to do what we do and do it well, or it’s the last year.” If I didn’t know there were plenty more episodes to come, this one would have also felt like a series finale. Oliver going on to fight the good fight with a rejuvenated purpose. But considering the huge scope of this crossover and the situation they were walking into once they left the matrix, I really thought he was a goner.
He’s not, of course, but it was a surprisingly powerful scene for me that, as it turns out, wasn’t even in the episode to begin with according to Guggenheim. Perhaps it was a missed opportunity too.