All things must end and ‘Starling City’ marks the beginning of the final chapter for Arrow. It’s been seven years since we first saw Oliver Queen rushing to light the beacon that marked his return home. Season eight begins the same way. Although it’s not exactly the same. The biggest difference being the beach on Lian Yu is marked with Batman’s cowl, not Deathstroke’s mask.
It’s the first clue that this isn’t Earth-1. The second clue comes in the form of Moira Queen, still alive and tearfully happy to see her son again, after twelve years. The differences of this earth continue to pile up. Returning home to Queen Mansion its Malcolm Merlyn, not Walter Steele waiting to greet him as his new step-dad and its Tommy who comes down the stairs, not Thea. Thea on this earth will never get to see her brother come home because on her eighteenth birthday she overdosed on Vertigo.
It’s a lot for Oliver to process and on top of it all he’s questioning if he should even be here, or spending what time he has left with his family. But he’s still on a mission from the Monitor, to collect Dwarf Star particles from this earth, which just so happens to be at Queen Merlyn Enterprises. Dawning the Hood, he breaks into the company, but another archer got there first. The number of archers doesn’t stop there when Oliver is ambushed by someone else in a green hood.
This earth’s Hood is stopped by Laurel/Black Siren, confirming for us which earth Oliver is on, Earth-2. Under the Hood is Adrian Chase who’s been working with Laurel out of her bunker, trying to stop the Dark Archer. Convinced the Dark Archer is Malcolm on this earth too, Oliver goes to pay him a visit as the Hood, only for his ‘you have failed this city’ conversation to be interrupted… by the Dark Archer. During their fight, Oliver discovers he suspected the wrong Merlyn. Tommy’s the one behind the mask.
Later on, in the best kind of blast from the past, Moira introduces Oliver to his new bodyguard, John Diggle. It’s not long before Dig reveals he’s our Diggle from Earth-1. After he and Felicity figured out Oliver wasn’t on their earth anymore he borrowed an extrapolator from Cisco to join Oliver on his mission.
At first, Oliver is reluctant to let Diggle join this mission, scared it means he’ll meet the same fate awaiting Oliver. Diggle doesn’t want to hear it, they’ve come too far together. He’s not going to let Oliver go this alone and he’ll be damned before he lets Oliver die without a fight.
At Oliver’s return of the dead party, he confronts Tommy, but Tommy’s bodyguard, a.k.a. Rene gets the drop on him. Oliver wakes in a scene ripped straight out the season one finale, with Oliver chained up and failing to reason with a Merlyn who’s fallen too far into the darkness (only Ollie isn’t shirtless this time). Tommy plans to destroy the Glades as revenge for what it did to her and he’s going to the Dwarf Star to do it.
Realizing this the Undertaking happening again, Oliver escapes and reconvenes with Diggle, Laurel and Adrian. Together they suit up, heading to the Glades to stop Tommy. With a hope speech that would make Barry and Kara proud, Oliver talks Tommy down, getting him to deactivate his device and turn himself in.
With the Dwarf Star Particles in hand, Oliver says his goodbyes to Tommy and his mother. His goodbyes turn out to be more permanent than even he realizes because as he and John prepare to leave for their earth Laurel shows up, saying the city is under attack. Before their eyes everyone and everything around them evaporates, the trio escaping to Earth-1 before they’re caught in it too.
Meanwhile, in 2040 Team Arrow New-Gen is dealing with the Deathstroke gang. The gang, led by John Diggle junior, J.J. kidnap a city leader, torturing codes from him. Still newly formed, Team Arrow, especially Mia struggle to work together, leading to the Deathstroke gang’s victory.
‘Starling City’ was a beautiful return to form for the series with just the right amount of nostalgia laced throughout the episode. The story here a perfect mirror for how far Oliver and the larger universe of Arrow have grown from the pilot. When Oliver started this journey he was closed off, refused help from people who cared about him and was certain the darkness that tainted his life would consume anyone he let get close. Here he accepts help from John, albeit with a bit of persuading. He’s able to talk Tommy away from his own dark path. He started with a mission to save his city but now he’s on a path to save the universe.
Likewise, Arrow began in a time when our entertainment wasn’t as saturated with comic book media as it is now. Its first season was more grounded than the typical comic book fare, with meta-humans and similar concepts not beginning introduced properly later seasons. Even with the yearly foray against immortals, aliens or dimension bending events Arrow remained the most grounded show in the Arrowverse. Now it’s ending an episode with an entire universe being destroyed. Arrow has a come a long way since we first saw Oliver running through the woods and this episode was a love letter to that journey.
The return of familiar faces, especially Susanna Thompson as Moira was a breath of fresh air. Moira and Oliver’s scenes were equally cathartic and heath breaking. As for Oliver himself, Amelle’s charisma just exudes in every scene. He balances all of Oliver’s charm with the melancholy that hangs over him with his impending death looming.
In contrast, the scenes in 2040, while in no ways bad, never held up to the magnetism and nostalgia of the present-day storyline. It’s perhaps not fair to compare the story arc of characters who are still, to use their own words, ‘going through growing pains’, to the swan song for characters who’ve had years to grow. But the concern remains that the flash-forwards could fall into the same rut as the flashbacks by detracting from the main storyline rather than complementing it.
The Flash has only teased this year’s crossover thus far, but Arrow is tripling down on the crossover prep. This episode was entirely propelled by the crisis plotline. If the next six episodes follow a similar trend, following Oliver and Diggle as they prepare for their biggest fight I think the final season can only benefit from that. With every episode or two being a self-contained plot to collect a McGiffin needed for the crisis, if done right, could be the perfect way to build tension for the crossover. Season seven’s finale felt like a farewell to the Green Arrow who was focused on protecting Star City. Now he’s something else. Season eight isn’t beholden to the same conventions of an Oliver defending his city. It has the space to experiment, delve deeper into the fantastic comic tropes the rest of the Arrowverse has been reviling in.
Some Stray Shots
- I’d be very interested to know the story behind Earth-2’s Batman, how is cowl ended up on Lian Yu and how he knows Adrian Chase.
- If this is Earth-2, then what happened to Robert Queen who survived in this universe to become to the Hood while Oliver died on the gambit? (If we never get an explanation I’m just going to chalk up to a speedster altering the timeline.)
- And speaking of speedsters I’m very concerned about the faith of Jesse Quick and Harry Wells. They’re from Earth-2 and as far we know we on this Earth when it went up in smoke.