In a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Stephen Amell admitted that his Facebook page went crazy the instant Oliver surprisingly “died” in the Arrow mid-season finale, “My Facebook page blew up. And it’s busy to begin with. So when I say it blew up, it blew up. I was getting posts on my page-long notes on my page every eight seconds from people.” I love that there are fans who care about this show enough to inundate Amell with messages like that, and I love that Amell makes himself so available through Facebook, even if that has gotten him into a wee bit of trouble from time to time. However, after that mid-season finale I wanted nothing more than to just take a good break from this show, thus how little I’ve written about it on the site since then.
It’s like Arrow’s writers have been slowly chipping away at me for a year and half now, throwing one insane plot after another that I simply had to rationalize my way through – Sara’s not dead, and Oliver was lying about it this whole time? Malcolm Merlyn’s not dead…AND he’s Thea’s biological father? WTF! Laurel is suddenly an alcoholic? Slade Wilson came back to life thanks to a super soldier serum, and now he wants to kill Oliver and Sara mostly because Shado was really nice to him that one time? Roy’s a superhuman now? Wait, this universe has superpowers now? Plus, they keep killing off their female characters – Shado, Moira, and now Sara? Don’t even get me started on Ray stalker Palmer, or Felicity’s flashback episode revealing her goth phase. Sure, some of those stories ended producing compelling drama, but usually in an “I still hate how this started, but I just learned to ignore that” kind of way. Then the mid-season finale brought just the latest stupid plot twist, revealing that Thea killed Sara but it wasn’t really her fault; Malcolm brainwashed her. An entire half-season of the show had been building up to that point, and that’s really the card they wanted to play? That was finally my “You know what? Screw this show!” moment.
But everything sounds bad when you simply fire off plot twists with no context or due credit to all the cool stuff that happened at the same time, e.g., that Flash/Arrow cross-over episode was so much fun! Plus, those with differing opinions might look at that list and see it more like a greatest hits package, evidence of all the really cool stuff the show has done. Others might accurately look at it and conclude, “It’s a hokey, soap opera comic book show. What else did you expect? It’s not like a show about a guy who returns to his town and fights crime after spending 5 years on a deserted island is really aiming for high drama.” In fact, at a recent family dinner gathering my step-brother must have used the word “hokey” three or four times when describing how he was just getting into Arrow on Netflix, e.g., “I mean, it’s pretty hokey, very CW, but it’s still a lot of fun.” I’m sure that’s the type of quote the CW would just love to put on posters: “Arrow: Hokey, But Fun.” That “eh, just go with it” attitude toward Arrow seems especially tempting to me at the moment, though. For example, after the latest episode, “Left Behind”:
They really worked that hard on the show and through their promotion of it through traditional and social media to convince everyone that Oliver Queen was definitely dead only to simply have Maseo and Katana patch him by the end of their first episode back? Eh, just go with it. You didn’t seriously think Oliver was dead, did you? Oh, you did? That’s adorable.
How can I? Oliver had his five years of island training, Diggle was in the military, and Sara was trained by the League of Assassins. We could buy them as butt-kicking badasses. But Ms. DA Laurel Lance takes some self-defense classes, and now she’s a costume-wearing vigilante? Eh, just go with it. Plus, it’s not like there’s a genuinely good reason why Roy is somehow skilled enough to be a vigilante either.
Team Arrow just happened to have Sara’s old Black Canary gear randomly lying around in the Arrow cave? She’s been dead for several months now. No one ever put any of that stuff away? Eh, just go with it.
How does Felicity even still have her job? She’s constantly running away from the office to God knows where, as far as Ray Palmer is concerned, and she routinely cries in front of him, lashing out at him while working through her own drama. Eh, just go with it. Ray probably just digs how unpredictable she is.
I think you get the gist of what I’m going for here. If you can “just go with it” then holy crap was “Left Behind” ever a super fun and effective episode of Arrow. I think Marc Guggenheim described it best in his separate interview with The Hollywood Reporter:
“The best ideas in the life of the show have always come when it’s Greg [Berlanti], Andrew and I in a room together, and we’re throwing out crazy shit to each other, and we stop and go “wait a minute, that’s crazy — but it does this, this, this and this,” and suddenly you see all the dominoes start to fall. That’s when we get really excited. It’s not just about the idea — it’s about the 50 ideas it leads to.”
The latest “crazy shit” is obviously that Thea killed Sara Lance which led to Oliver fighting R’as al Guhl which led to Oliver apparently dying at the end of the mid-season finale which then set up a planned trilogy of episodes exploring what becomes of the show’s cast when Oliver is removed from the equation. They are the ones referred to in the episode’s title, “Left Behind.” Who are they without Oliver? Why would they even continue without him? In fact, will they continue without him?
Team Arrow Without the Arrow | Given that this is to be the focus of the first three episodes of the second half of the season it was mildly surprising that “Left Behind” took so long to get to the point where everyone knew that Oliver was “dead.” On some level, this “let’s keep the lights on until Oliver gets back” portion of the story called to mind an episode of Superman: The Animated Series in which Superman hopped over to Gotham City to pretend to be Batman to keep the criminals of the city scared while he and Robin secretly tried to figure out where the real Batman was. That episode even involved R’as and The League of Assassins. As a fan of that episode, I liked seeing Diggle struggle to move in the Arrow costume here, and generally suck at shooting arrows.
It was effective enough watching Felicity push forward in complete denial while Roy and Diggle exchanged nervous “What if Oliver isn’t coming back?” glances, but the true meat of the episode came once the trio was finally presented with Malcolm’s evidence that Oliver had clearly lost his fight. It was not entirely dissimilar to the episode where we watched everyone’s reaction to Sara’s death, at least in the sense that their reactions were not nearly as demonstrative as you might have expected, e.g., no outright sobbing, just some stern faces and one brief outburst from Felicity. And, again, that was by design for much as they did after Sara died everyone’s instinct was to push forward with the task at hand. Was it perhaps a little too convenient that the exact case they were working turned out to be a plot by a new big bad who means to free every single guy Team Arrow had put away since the end of the second season? You betcha, but beyond a “eh, just go with” explanation I actually liked the way that lined up, turning their quest into something closer to a fight to protect Oliver’s legacy. The fact that they failed is even more interesting, with Felicity opting to save Diggle and Roy rather than let them try and stop Brick at the risk of their own lives.
We close the episode with Felicity declaring that there is no Team Arrow without Oliver, Diggle feeling as if he failed in his honorary duty as Oliver’s bodyguard, and Roy stuck with a thousand yard stare. Laurel finally became Black Canary, which is one of those “This is where the show is going with this, and if you don’t like it you’re kind of screwed” propositions. Maybe this will at least mean no more hero shots of Laurel standing tall and defiant in a courtroom as the camera does a 360 around her. We have a general idea of what’s probably going to happen next. Felicity will stay out of things for a while, and Roy and Diggle will continue on with the fight, forming some kind of uneasy partnership with Laurel. I am most curious to see what they do with Felicity because they have used the two deaths this season to make her the actual rational person in the room. After Sara died, Felicity moved on from Oliver to Ray basically because she wanted to live for a change, and now that she thinks Oliver is dead she’s moved on from vigilantism altogether. Everything she’s saying makes complete, rational, real world sense. At only 25, she’s lost two people close to her in just a couple of months because of their fight against crime. Of course she would want to move on, and try to save Ray from his self-destructive instincts in a way she never could for Oliver. But how will they pull her back to a place of fighting crime regardless of the risks?
Oliver, Only Mostly Dead | After Game of Thrones, the mortality rate among the ranks of regular and recurring characters on TV shows has skyrocketed, but you can’t kill Oliver “Green Arrow” Queen off of Arrow just the same way you can’t kill Barry “Flash” Allen off of The Flash or Angel off of Angel or Buffy off of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Heck, in that last case they did kill her off, but then they brought her right back. So, it wasn’t so much a question of, “Is Oliver dead?” as it was, “How and when will they bring him back?” My guess was either 1) Maseo would retrieve Oliver’s body and nurse him back to health, or 2) the show would go completely crazy and introduce the Lazarus Pit. It turns out it was option #1 with an assist from Maseo’s not-dead wife Katana, and that Oliver would be revived by the end of the first episode after his “death.”
Frankly, I am relieved that they’re not going full-on Lazarus Pit, even though it’s highly likely we’ll find out next week that Katana’s used something called the Lazarus waters or something to help nurse Oliver back to health. However, something closer to the comics like seeing Oliver’s corpse submerged into an underground vat of bubbling waters which caused him to awake from his death sleep would stretch this show’s hold on reality beyond its breaking point, or at least my patience for it. So, I have no issue with the way Oliver was revived, but I am surprised it happened this soon. The way it was used to tie into the Hong Kong flashbacks was certainly an effective moment, especially with Katana being there to save Oliver even though it sure seemed like they were set to kill her off in the flashbacks. The flashbacks have generally been the least compelling part of the season to this point, but they are at least finally making us understand why they’re important to the present-day storylines.
It’s the timing of Oliver’s revival I take issue with. Imagine how much more effective it could have been if we had not seen Maseo retrieve Oliver’s body in this episode. Imagine if the first time we saw that mountain from the mid-season finale again was simply when Malcolm investigated the crime scene, and couldn’t find Oliver’s body. The fact that someone had already shown up to cart Oliver’s body somewhere away from the League meant that when Malcolm told Team Arrow Oliver was dead we already had a pretty good idea that Malcolm was wrong. Granted, like I said up above we all pretty much already knew Oliver would be back, but imagine how much more interesting it would have been to watch Team Arrow grieve if we hadn’t been tipped off that as they fought back tears Oliver was being ushered to safety somewhere. You could argue, “We didn’t know that for sure. They could have simply been taking his body away to bury it.” But that honestly never occurred to me while I was actually watching the episode.
THE BOTTOM LINE
I have said it time and time again, but Arrow is at its best when the focus is on the original trio: Felicity, Oliver, and Diggle. That particular mindset of mine inherently implies that I’ve never really warmed to Roy, and don’t think of Laurel as being a part of that team. As a result, I should be the person who would be the most critical of this new phase of the show which has removed Oliver from the equation, and is daring to ask who these people are and what they fight for if Oliver is gone. I still don’t know that this shift has really benefited Roy, with Colton Haynes suitability to the emotions called for always in question but his actual abilities pulling off fight scenes forever improving. For example, some of the moves he pulled off as Arsenal in this episode were flat-out awesome! On the other hand, it was a delight seeing David Ramsay get so much to do, and to watch Diggle and Roy struggle against bad guys while remembering that Oliver couldn’t simply swoop in to save them like the badass he is. Felicity has been even further removed from the team, and pulled closer to Ray, which isn’t the greatest if you don’t like Ray but it is an interesting and rational reaction for Felicity. Let not all of this interesting work be undercut by the fact that Oliver’s return to life was not as theatrical as it could have been nor held back for as long as it maybe should have been. This was a fine mid-season debut.
1. Vinnie Jones as Brick? Almost made me forget about his dreadful appearance as Juggernaut in X-Men: The Last Stand. That early scene of him pummeling that poor henchman was shot so perfectly, with blood spewing out of the guy’s mouth with every punch, that when he attacked Diggle at the end I genuinely feared for Diggle’s safety.
2. I loved that Laurel’s reaction to the news of Oliver’s apparent death was basically, “Oliver dead? Oh, I’ve heard that one before, and then he came back 5 years later. It’s so cute that all of you think he might really be dead, though.”
3. Malcolm and Laurel’s first scenes in the Arrow cave happened back-to-back, giving the impression that they surely must have passed each other in the hall outside the entrance.
4. Seriously, they must get better locks for that door to the Arrow cave.
5. Brick had the police records with case numbers which he then used to hijack the corresponding evidence against a bunch of thugs awaiting trial. I get that. But how did Brick get those case file numbers in the first place? Did I miss that part?
6. With Diggle, Roy, and Felicity trying to do the Team Arrow thing without Oliver at the beginning, was anyone else reminded of the season 4 premiere of Angel when Fred and Gunn were operating Angel Investigations after Angel disappeared in the season 3 finale?
7. “I’ll live with that guilt for the rest of my days” – Would Malcolm actually feel guilty about his part in Oliver’s death? He seemed far more emotional about all of that than I expected, but I guess it was really just, “Well, crap. There goes my way of escaping the League of Assassins.”
8. Part of my enjoyment of this episode was contingent on telling myself “eh, just go with it” pretty much every single time Thea was on-screen. Although, I did get a good laugh when Malcolm said, “It’s cute that you think that” when she claimed she could have killed him after throwing the knife at him in the apartment.
HushComics – “Hush Comics gives “Left Behind” a C for Felicity’s horribly written part in the episode, which really swallowed up way too much time when so much else was going on. We get that she loves Oliver, but knowing that he was not dead, and then hearing her blubber about it, and mucking up the mission just made her even less relatable. I actually had to pull a lot of punches on this review, but I’m nowhere near worried about the season rebounding.”
TV.com – “While I don’t think that Diggle currently needs a mission the way he needed one when he and Oliver first began working together, especially with Lyla and Baby Sara in the mix, I think he likes having a purpose that’s larger than himself. Early on, that purpose was avenging Andy’s murder, and then it was joining Oliver’s crusade. Now, Diggle is ready to take over the crusade in Oliver’s absence. Felicity, however, is very much not interested. Felicity may like the feeling of helping, but she doesn’t like the risks. She’s never liked the risks, and given her feelings for Oliver, it’s not surprising that she not only quit, but turned out the lights in the Arrow Cave to show just how out-of-the-game she wants to be.”
I’m done with my ramble. What about you?