A lot happened in Arrow’s mid-season finale “What We Leave Behind,” some of it good, some of it more WTF than anything else. It concludes a run of 9 episodes which ushered in a stunning creative rebound for a show which had fallen in the gutter, and then nuked the hell out of that gutter. The Arrow before us now is still a flawed affair, a fluffy lightweight in comparison to the more mature, superior storytelling on any of the Netflix Marvel shows or even Agents of SHIELD. However, it’s at least back to doing what Arrow does best: street-level vigilantism with just the right amount of soap opera. This is a world in which Oliver Queen is somehow mayor of a major city, and the world was invaded by aliens last week (in a surprisingly amazing episode, btw). As such, reality is but a distant relative to Arrow. However, the show actually takes itself seriously again, and even as it revisits familiar themes, such as the collateral damage Oliver brings to those around him and the corresponding guilt he feels about that, it’s doing so in an engaging way.
Case in point: “What We Leave Behind,” the episode where we were meant to learn Prometheus’ identity but instead learned his actual identity might not really matter. The true villain this season is not Prometheus but Oliver, whose heroic journey must now come full circle and force him and his loved ones to pay for his barbaric beginnings. Prometheus may or may not be the son of someone Oliver killed while crossing off names from his father’s hit list. That mask never comes off, meaning this new theory about Prometheus’ identity remains unconfirmed. It’s likely the show has another twist up its sleeve, such as a potential Dark Knight Rises turn where Oliver’s new hot reporter girlfriend who has pounced on him at his most vulnerable turns out to be the secret big bad. However, regardless of who Prometheus turns out to be it’s become clear the central argument of the season is whether or not Oliver deserves our sympathies or blame for all the consequences his actions have caused.
This is not too far removed from Oliver’s conflict with Deathstroke in the second half of season 2, pitting Oliver against a foe with a personal beef and plan to first destroy Oliver by eroding his support structure before moving in for the kill. Perhaps the reference is intentional, the show tweaking its own greatest hits in what might be its final season (it won’t be, but they’ve had to write it like it would be just in case the ratings didn’t turn around). However, this time it’s being pitched as more of an effort destroy Oliver’s legacy. It’s less about killing his mother in front of him (since Deathstroke already did that) and more about breaking down everyone around him, either turning them against him or making them suffer in such a way that his guilt is overwhelming (as with poor Felicity grieving the boyfriend Oliver technically killed in “What We Leave Behind”).
And to think, this time last year Oliver was quarreling with a scenery-chewing dude with magical powers and plan to paralyze Felicity. Look how far the show has come by mostly going back.
As for the rest of “What We Leave Behind”:
Here’s the fiction: the Laurel we see standing in the Arrowcave before turning to our stunned hero and letting out a playful “Hi, Ollie” is either the real Laurel reincarnated somehow (Quentin/Talia al Ghul Lazarus Pit shenanigans?), the real Laurel returned due to Flashpoint or other such time travel trick, a Laurel doppelganger from one of the other Earths (most obvious candidate being Black Siren from Earth-2) or a vision/dream/hallucination/ghost.
Here’s the reality: Sometime around last April/May, Katie Cassidy, John Barrowman and Wentworth Miller each signed unique three-show contracts making them series regulars across the entire Arrowverse. Rumors dug up by TV reporters and quotes from the producers indicated the plans were for Cassidy to return for Arrow‘s 100th before rejoining the cast a week later to help shake things up at mid-season. Whether her return is for good or for a glorified guest star arc as a precursor to hopping over to Flash or Legends remains unclear.
Fiction and reality have finally met now. Laurel Lance or someone who looks just like her is back, and a whole lot of soap opera might be coming back into what has been a relatively grounded season (alien invasion notwithstanding). They’re playing with fire here, potentially undercutting all that business about Laurel’s death needing to stick to return consequences to this universe. Moreover, Laurel is a character who improved last season largely by standing still as everyone around her got crazier, but Arrow still hasn’t done this character full justice. For example, as anyone who’s seen her at conventions knows Katie Cassidy is a far more charismatic presence in real life than she ever has been on Arrow. Perhaps this is truly their chance to get it right this time.
If that’s that the real Laurel, of course, which I don’t believe it is. It’s not much to go on, but the way Cassidy plays her head turn and one line leads me to believe she’s Black Siren secretly escaped from STAR Labs. Maybe she’s now trying to pull one over on Oliver before Team Flash notices she’s gone. That could logically lead Cassidy back over to Flash for a bit, where she seemed to actually fit in better.
Ultimately, we know so very little about this, and in the grand scheme of things it’s but one unconnected minute in a far longer episode. Wait and see.
ARTEMIS PLAYS HER HAND
Evelyn, aka Artemis, betraying Team Arrow makes sense because she’s Artemis, and this kind of thing is what she’s known for in the comics. However, does Artemis’ betrayal actually make sense in the context of the show?
Yes and no. She wanted revenge last season, and Oliver talked her out of it by taking the moral high ground. This season, she learns Oliver’s moral high ground is complete bullshit because he used to be a remorseless killer but chose not to share that information with them. Oliver has always been an imperfect hero, stubborn (which this episode humorously lampshaded) and often hypocritical. You can see where one of his students might eventually conclude he is not to be trusted, the well-intentioned man who lies to himself and friends and whose mere presence invites chaos.
That’s not exactly how Arrow‘s playing it, though. While Evelyn does have the “need to save the city from you” line, it’s more telling how eager she is to be present when Prometheus finally kills Oliver. That’s not the eagerness of someone making the tough, but rational decision to do away with a hero who is doing more harm than good; that is the blood lust of someone who was denied their vengeance and has finally found a new target for her anger.
Perhaps Evelyn is in some way now lying to herself about her true intentions, which might also be why she’s turning such a blind eye to the trail of innocent bodies being left behind by her new boss. However, what’s more intriguing to me is how she got Team Arrow personalized Christmas gifts and referred to them as her only true family. Was this hint of one last supper for the team meant to simply play up her Judas status, or was it a true glimpse into how she feels about them, setting the stage for an arc where she tries to convert Rory, Wild Dog or Curtis to her side?
FELICITY AND CURTIS ARE NEWLY SINGLE AND NOT-SO-READY TO MINGLE
One of the single most effective emotional moments in the history of this show is an early season 1 episode-ending montage set to a beautiful Blake Neely score and Diggle speech about the consequences of Oliver’s actions. So single-minded has Oliver been in his pursuit of those names in his father’s book that he’s been blind to the emotional wreckage surrounding him, with the montage checking in on the other characters at their low points, most memorably Laurel retrieving a drunk Quentin from a bar.
That’s the same type of emotional punch “What We Leave Behind” was aiming for in its own ending montage serving as the visual exclamation point on the end of Oliver’s sentence about everyone around him suffering simply because of their association with him. Felicity and Curtis are an emotional wreck after having lost their respective spouses, and Diggle has been recaptured.
The problem with all of this is that for as much as I have enjoyed season 5 it feels like the herd needs to be thinned with the cast right now because most of these secondary relationships aren’t getting the development they need. For example, how long has it been since we’ve seen Curtis’ husband, and weren’t we just getting to finally kind of know Felicity’s boyfriend? And where exactly are Wild Dog and Rory by the end of all this? They’re conveniently missing from Oliver’s sad montage of broken friends because they don’t have any real storylines right now other than popping up as (admittedly effective) comic relief.
1. Don’t let anyone who wrote any of those “Rory Gilmore is a terrible journalist” essays catch wind of what’s happening with the hot reporter on Arrow right now, especially since she just slept with the man she’s meant to be investigating. Then again, Rory’s just Rory; the reporter on Arrow might be the big bad. Sleeping with Oliver might be part of her evil plan. Still, this is a very ugly trope Arrow is potentially falling into here.
2. That bit with Prometheus and the mirrors was supposed to be an Enter the Dragon homage, right?
3. Wild Dog attempting to understand Flashpoint is adorable.
4. Is Green Arrow wanted for murder now? Or are the authorities blaming Felicity’s boyfriend’s death on The Throwing Star Killer?
5. The concept of flashing back to some hinted at, but unseen season 1 adventure is solid on paper, and certainly built to an effective finale when past merged with present. However, it was also a tad fanservicey, particularly Oliver’s meeting with Felicity which tried to pay homage to those memorable early scenes between the two but came off as overly obvious imitation.
6. What if Curtis just went back to being Felicity’s computer tech back-up? Would that appease his husband? Frankly, Curtis seems better suited for that role anyway.
7. Where was Thea during the closing montage?