Arrow 5×08 Review: What Could’ve Been and What Was Meant to Be

Reaching the 100th episode of a television show is quite a milestone. It’s something that both fans and those involved in making the show should be quite proud of. It’s hard to believe that Arrow has already hit that mark. And what a 100 episodes it has been.
Given that Arrow’s 100th episode was part of this crossover event there was definitely some bitterness from some of the fandom, myself included, given the fact that this pivotal milestone should be about Arrow and only Arrow. Even after seeing the episode I remain firm in that regard. But also after seeing the episode it wasn’t as bad as I’d expected.
In its own way it was a “love letter to the fans” as the producers had suggested. There was something for every fan of Arrow. It had all of the emotion that Arrow has been known for all of these years, which is something that has been severely lacking in this season so far.
This was definitely the best episode of the season thus far (Lauriver nausea included), which kind of shows you just how disappointing this season has been so far. But this was definitely an episode that fans of Arrow could find something they loved about this series over the years. And perhaps that’s what they meant by “love letter,” although that’s not an accurate definition. There was a little something for everyone that has watched over the years. For the fans that love Olicity, for the fans of Thea and Moira’s beautiful relationship, for the fans of Original Team Arrow, hell, even for fans of the ship that was always doomed from the start Lauriver.
No doubt what made this episode solid was the emotion that hit the audience so profoundly. Arrow at its best has always thrived on the emotional dealings of its characters. It’s why this season 5 has felt so alien (pun not intended). We haven’t gotten to see these characters really experience or address their emotions. Those emotions have been pushed aside in favor of action sequences or new characters. But Arrow’s 100th episode brought back that emotional element that we’d been missing. And it was glorious.

Getting to see so many familiar faces (both in physical and hologram form) was such a beautiful reminder of how far this show has come. There have been so many phenomenal characters, so many fantastic actors that have come through this show. These people had become like family that when we’d lost them it felt like we’d lost a piece of ourselves. Getting to see them one last time – Oliver wasn’t the only one getting closure. It felt like we as an audience were, as well.
Arrow’s 100th episode centered around the idea of what could’ve been and what was actually meant to be. While “Invasion” presented us with this idea of what could’ve been had Oliver never gotten on the Queen’s Gambit, it also made it damn clear that Oliver was meant to get on that boat and he was meant to live the life he’s currently living. Who would’ve thought five years of hell would’ve been the best thing to happen to Oliver Queen? But it’s the truth. He’s a better man for it.
This false reality was meant to be a distraction. It was meant to make us and these characters really examine this false reality and what could’ve happened had Oliver not gone through this five years of hell. It was also meant to make us, as well as the characters, feel uncomfortable and out of their element in this world that is so unlike the Arrow world we’ve come to know and love. It was meant to remind us that Arrow, the show that has been telling the story of Oliver Queen, Felicity Smoak, John Diggle, Thea Queen, and more, was always meant to turn out the way it’s happening. These tragedies, while painful, have shaped what this show has become. This false reality wasn’t meant to show us a different show. It was meant to highlight what Arrow is.
While we got a taste of what might’ve been, we were also reminded that Arrow was always meant to be Arrow.

“Some Things You Just Can’t Fix”

A powerful lesson that our characters stuck in this false reality had to learn was that even though they had the things that they’d lost, some things you just can’t fix. Even though this false reality was tempting in its bliss and what it offered, it wasn’t real. It was never going to be what they’d lost. Not really. It led to some really emotional goodbyes and some much-needed closure for those that never got to say goodbye.
As we’ve seen on Legends of Tomorrow, Sara hasn’t exactly been handling her sister’s death entirely well. While she took a big step in the right direction when she made the right decision not to kill Damien Darhk to bring Laurel back – and lose her soul in the process – we’ve seen how Laurel’s death has significantly affected Sara. Sara got the goodbye she never got – or even the goodbye that Laurel was never granted when Sara “died” twice before. That goodbye was everything. While I expected a little more emotion, it was still beautifully executed and reminded us of the power and love of family.
Thea. My poor baby Thea. When she realized what was happening she immediately knew that she wasn’t willing to give that up. Remembering that her parents are both dead in the real world and getting to have them alive in this false reality was satisfying enough for Thea. She was afraid to let this blissful falsehood go. More than that, she selfishly – and rightfully so – wanted her parents to be alive and in her life. If I were in her shoes, I’d no doubt make the same decision. I’d elect to stay behind with my parents – even if they weren’t really them. It would be better than the pain that existed in reality. But much like Thea eventually realized, she hadn’t lost her family entirely. She still had her brother. And there was no way she was going to lose him again.
No doubt the most emotional moment of the episode came when Oliver, realizing that he couldn’t stay even though there were people he didn’t want to leave behind, said goodbye to his parents. It was such a raw, emotional scene that had me sobbing as I clutched my pillow. Oliver never got to say goodbye to his parents before they died. Oliver never got any semblance of closure. Oliver never really got to tell them just how important they are to him. This was his moment. And damn it if he didn’t bring himself and the entire world to tears in the process.

Stephen Amell was absolutely flawless in that scene. It was so much more powerful than on paper because of what it meant to Stephen personally. It was such a gut-wrenching and bittersweet moment for Oliver where he finally got his chance to say goodbye. Even though he could’ve chosen to stay locked in this false reality, he did what a hero does: he sacrificed his happiness for the greater good. He understood that he couldn’t stay here and let others fight the good fight alone. He has a responsibility and duty to his city. But more than that, there was so much that he’d be giving up in the process.
He’d be giving up Felicity. And regardless of where the two stand at present, there’s no doubt in my mind that not only will they find their way back to each other but that there’s no way Oliver would give up the chance to be with her. This false reality might’ve told him that he was supposed to be with Laurel, but that’s why it was a false reality. It wasn’t real. It was his subconscious creating this scenario of what might’ve been, what was probably expected of him. But it’s Felicity Smoak, the blonde IT girl that stole his heart from the first moment he met her, that is his always. She is who he’s supposed to be with. And there’s nothing in this world – even a false reality that teases bliss – that could keep him from her. Hell, it was his flashes of Felicity that prompted him to realize and admit that something was wrong — that this reality wasn’t reality. He belonged in a reality where this exists:

All it took was one look at her and listening to her babble for him to remember everything. He remembered the first time they met; their first date; their first kiss; their first time; the moment he thought he’d lost her forever; and the moment where he promised to be her always and wanted him to be hers.

Those emotional moments were reminders that all of these tragedies that these characters have experienced, they can’t be fixed. Not even in a blissful reality. They still exist. They still happened. They still carry them with them. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do. And accepting that – accepting that you can’t do anything – is the hardest part of all.

Their Own Worst Enemies

Let’s talk about that scene in the courtyard where Oliver, Diggle, Thea, Sara, and Ray were each confronted with the villain that was their worst nightmare. It was just such a powerful scene for all of them as they got the chance to exact revenge on the person(s) that had taken a loved one from them or caused them immense harm. Oliver battled Deathstroke, who killed his mother. Sara fought Damien Darhk, who killed her sister. Ray battled Mirakuru soldiers, who killed his fiancée. Diggle fought HIVE, who had taken his brother. And Thea fought Malcolm, who took her innocence. Each battle was just so emotionally significant. Perhaps that emotional significance might be overlooked given James Bamford’s stunning action sequences. But that scene was as powerful as it was given the history of those characters and really allowing these characters a chance to act on that anger and pain.

Some Thoughts…

-Definitely the best episode of Arrow this season!
-Yeah, there were aliens. But that didn’t really feel important until the end, which was exactly what fans of Arrow deserved.
-There was not nearly enough Felicity Smoak in an episode that’s Arrow’s milestone episode, a series that Felicity has been a significant part of in its success. Just saying.
-Though I will say, SMOAK TECHNOLOGIES. Hell yes!
-Bringing back all of these big bads was such a powerful moment for Oliver, Diggle, Thea, Sara, and Ray. What a scene!
-Good God I miss Moira Queen most of all.
-It bears repeating that Oliver saying goodbye to his mother was the most painful, emotion, and gut-wrenching moment of the entire series for me.
-Sara’s goodbye to Laurel hit me emotionally. I’ve always loved their relationship, and it’s been absolutely heartbreaking to watch each of them have to lose each other. Getting this moment and then having to walk away from it was gut-wrenching.
-I’m still cackling over that Tommy working at a hospital in Chicago line from Malcolm. It was a nice shout out to Colin Donnell’s current gig as Dr. Rhodes on Chicago Med, another one of my favorite shows.
-Speaking of Tommy, that hologram and voiceover when Tommy tells Oliver he’s a hero absolutely wrecked me.
-Yeah, I definitely noticed the Olicity fern in the Arrow lair. Thanks for the subtle nod, writers.
-That might’ve been the first and only time seeing Felicity with Ray didn’t make me angry. Ray has certainly grown on me since Legends of Tomorrow. He’s a good guy.
-Thea’s relationship with Moira is so stunningly beautiful and tragic. It’s definitely one of the underrated relationships from this series.
-Even in a false reality, it’s always Original Team Arrow.
Arrow‘s midseason finale airs next Wednesday at 8/7c on The CW. And don’t miss the conclusion to the 4-night crossover event Thursday at 8/7c on Legends of Tomorrow.

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