After delivering a worthless filler episode last week, Arrow gave us one of its usual, pre-finale table-setting episodes last night—and it was surprisingly great.
Now that the show is approaching the inevitable end of its flashback vs. present day set up, it makes sense that these last few episodes of Season 5 would emphasize the journey Oliver (Stephen Amell, just as muscular as the day we met him) has taken over the 10-year period (flashbacks + present day) we’ve known him. Shockingly, one of the most effective ways the episode achieved that goal, was through the flashbacks. I know! I can’t believe it either!
Anyway, thanks to some comic book drug that made Oliver relive the pain of the scars he received during his five years away from Star City, the show gave us and him a sort torture montage of his lowest moments. Chopped up over the course of five seasons of B-plot, it’s easy to forget how awful that time was for Oliver. Seeing them altogether, however, was a brutal reminder of how formative those years were for him. That pain is the basis for Oliver’s entire outlook and personality. It has driven every choice we’ve ever seen him make and his evolution post-return to Star City has been slow because of it.
Every time things get bad, Oliver tries to distance himself from his friends and family. And every time, it proves to be the wrong decision. So, it was frustrating but also unsurprising that he did that again here. What was surprising was that Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) and Diggle (David Ramsey) actually agreed with him this time. Though they quickly realized thinking like Oliver is never a good idea, they didn’t turn back soon enough to avoid getting kidnapped by Talia (Lexa Doig).
The eldest Al Ghul sister wasn’t the only blast from Oliver’s past to show up during the episode. Frankly, it was a veritable who’s who of his past enemies. Chief among them was Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman). There are few characters I have less patience for than Malcolm (*cough* Susan Williams *cough* Baby Canary *cough*), but he did make some good points here. Mainly, that Oliver was an idiot to think he could live a life devoid of human connection. That is the definition of humanity. Granted, it’s tough to believe a self-professed sociopath would actually believe that, but I’ll allow it just this once.
Speaking of those human connections, Oliver’s friends spent the episode slowly being rounded up by Chase’s (Josh Segarra) associates and those scenes were loaded with callbacks to previous seasons. There was Felicity and Diggle hitting Talia with a car à la Isobel Rochev in Season 2. There was Oliver telling Felicity he had to put her somewhere safe all while dancing around the fact that he’s in love with her, just like the Season 2 finale (their chemistry was out of control this week, but there simply isn’t the time to talk about it now). Best of all, there was Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy).
You all know I am far from Ms. Lance’s biggest fan, but the way the show used the character this episode was excellent. In the present day, that meant Quentin (Paul Blackthorne) finally learned about Black Siren, the Earth-2 version of Laurel. That poor man, how many times must he watch his daughters die and come back to life? His denial that this Laurel wasn’t really his Laurel was heartbreaking. Eventually, his surrogate daughter of late, Thea (Willa Holland) convinced him otherwise, but I’m excited to see how that relationship gets developed in the finale—mostly because it will have to justify Dark Laurel’s existence as a regular next season.
Laurel’s effect in the flashbacks was just as heartbreaking, but in a very different way. After re-experiencing all the pain of the previous five years, Oliver was on the brink of killing himself at the end of the episode. So, it was thrilling to see a hallucination of the Laurel he left behind in then-Starling City convince him to keep living. Not only was it a nice bit of continuity between that moment and his love for her in Season 1, it was good to see some part of Oliver understand that as much as knowing him puts the people he loves in danger, they love him too much to let him go. How that truth manifests in next week’s finale remains to be seen, but man, I can’t wait.