‘Arrow’ 8×01 Review: “Starling City”

Welcome one more year to Arrow! With “Starling City” we find ourselves at the beginning of the end. The end of a journey in which we have accompanied Oliver Queen in his ups and downs. The way to start this end has been an ode to one of the best seasons of the show: season one. Although the episode sometimes became a little slow, they have given us great moments full of nostalgia, although that doesn’t mean that we are so easily sated. We want more! Let’s talk about everything!

Here we go!

Continuous references to the pilot are one of the strongest points of the episode.  This has allowed us to see old characters in completely different facets to what they have us accustomed. Chase is the Green Arrow of that strange land to which the Monitor takes Oliver, Tommy, as many fans wanted, in a gift for them, is the Dark Archer and Laurel, in another gift for her fans, is the leader to Team Arrow, along with Chase.  But what will really mark the entire episode is Thea’s overdose, as it’s the origin of Tommy’s darkness, as a revenge for everything he considers  led his sister’s death, when in fact it was herself who did it.

 

As I said, it’s the desire for revenge for what happens to Thea that moves Tommy to the point of turning him into a murderer. Tommy has always worn a mask in front of Oliver, both metaphorically and literally. Before Oliver, he showed himself as his former friend, when in fact he suspected that Oliver was not the innocent shipwrecked man he seemed to be.

It’s when Oliver must face the blow of seeing his best friend turned into a murderer (as Tommy himself saw Oliver just before he died), that the facade has fallen. Oliver could hardly believe what he was seeing … and it hurts him to see Tommy like that, so consumed by revenge that he is a cartoon of himself. That is what revenge can do to a person, Oliver knows it well, he has lived it in his own flesh.

In the final confrontation between the two, Oliver knows there is only one way to make Tommy react and that’s being honest with him, as much as possible. Thus, Oliver decides to confess that he knows perfectly what Tommy feels, that desire to burn the world to the ground because nothing and nobody deserves to be saved. There have been too many losses, too much pain … and he understands.

Therefore, in each death Oliver had to make his own decision, whether to follow the path of darkness or light … and always chose the light, thanks to Felicity and Diggle, who taught him to walk that path. Each death didn’t bring him closer to darkness but to light, to life … to honoring those who left. Today, Oliver is a much brighter man than when he started his crusade,and he wants the same for Tommy.

Tommy reflects on all this … and realizes that Oliver is right, so he stops the whole plan. Here, Tommy shows us that the reason for that plan was not true evil (if it had, he would never have changed his mind) but real pain and despair. Tommy is a reflection of what Oliver could have been if he had chosen the path of darkness when he suffered the pain of losing a loved one.

The trail of references to the pilot, there are scenes that play out exactly the same, ones that fill us with nostalgia. For example, the scene in Lian Yu which opens the episode, or the scene in which Tommy appears going down the stairs (as Thea appeared in the pilot), as well as the moment of confrontation between Oliver and Malcolm, a reflection  of the confrontation between Oliver and Moira in the pilot.  Nostalgia is the order of the day.

In tune with memories of the past, Felicity’s absence has been very noticeable throughout the episode, as a reminder that everything is different, lifeless … empty. As Stephen told us, the show we met ended in 7×22. However, Felicity has been present without being present, the way she always is in Oliver’s life, as shown by the various references to her throughout the episode and, above all, the moment in which we have revived her first encounter with Oliver.

Everything was the same, the clothes, the glasses, the cubicle, Oliver’s entrance… only it wasn’t. I will never forget that face of longing, of despair, of love, the unsaid words that Oliver had reflected in his face when entering that cubicle and seeing someone so similar to Felicity; like that half smile between happiness, melancholy and sadness at the thought that he was going to relive the moment that changed his life forever. It is something that will remain in my retina forever.

Oliver’s face falls a little due to disappointment when he realizes that this not Felicity, and that the details are wrong, that pencil should be red, it is red in his reality and it is a detail that he will never forget, because with that girl babbling in that cubicle, biting a red pen, is when his  life really started; it’s when Oliver started living again, it’s when it all made sense, even if he didn’t even know it then. Oliver cannot help complaining about the fact that everything is so similar, but at the same time everything is different.

But then he asks for her, and find out that she has her own company and smiles again, this time with pride. He always knew that Felicity would go far, that she would do great things, out on whatever land she was, and could not be more proud of her, she is the one that matters, and if in this reality she is happy, even though they didn’t know each other,  nothing else matters, he can live with the pain of not seeing her.

It has been lovely to see Oliver cry while hugging his mother and apologize.  There are so many things that he wants to tell her, so many things for which he wants to implore her forgiveness … that words simply cannot come out of his mouth. Oliver has had several occasions to see Moira again, and resolve his pending issues but… he simply cannot solve them, she is his mother and he will never get tired of imploring her forgiveness, and wishing she were by his side.

That’s why Oliver asks for forgiveness for so many things at that time … sorry for failing you, sorry for not being able to protect you, sorry for not being able to save you, sorry for all the mistakes I’ve made, sorry for not choosing you. Oliver begs his forgiveness, and in that sincere hug, despite knowing that it is an illusion, Oliver feels comforted and forgiven. Forgiven for the sins he committed and those he will commit. He feels safe, and feels like Moira doesn’t care about anything other than the fact that he is there by her side. It’s beautiful.

In case this scene didn’t make us cry enough, we see Oliver take out and stare at the picture of Felicity and William. His family. That gesture is a way to remember why he is doing all this, who he is fighting for and, at the same time, is checking that their faces have not been forgotten, that they are as he has them engraved and memorized by fire in his mind and in his heart.

There is something sadly heroic when you sacrifice yourself and do everything for other people, for the people you love. Your needs and feelings don’t matter, only the welfare of the people for whom you sacrifice yourself matters. That is what happens with Oliver.

It doesn’t matter that he has to see people from his past again who are already dead, it doesn’t matter that he has to say goodbye to them again and feel the pain of their loss once again, it doesn’t matter if he has to suffer the horrible pain of new  losses or that his heart is broken into a thousand pieces … nothing matters, he, his own welfare doesn’t matter at all. Only the welfare of his family matters, only the people he is fighting for, and those hell is living for. He can survive hell again, it would not be the first time, but he will not allow anything to happen to his family.

 Photo: Jack Rowand/The CW — © 2019 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

 

One of the aspects that has reminded us most of the Pilot has been the introduction of John and Oliver. Oliver has only smiled when he has seen him, there are so many things lived, so much that has happened between them … although Diggle doesn’t know him, for Oliver, he is family.

However, Diggle had a surprise ready for us: it was our Diggle. As always, Felicity has watched over the love of her life, and found out where he could be, sending Diggle to help him. Oliver doesn’t want his help because he doesn’t want anything to happen to him. He knows from Monitor that he doesn’t have much time left, and he can bear anything happening to him but he could not stand for something to happen to Felicity or Diggle, no, he can’t even think about it, so he wants Diggle to return with his family and  enjoy … enjoy them as much as Oliver himself cannot enjoy his.

But family doesn’t work that way. Brothers, as Diggle says, don’t have to ask for help, one brother always goes to the aid of another, no matter what. And here I’m already crying in tears, my wonderful little babies. My BROTP. They are and always be family.

But Oliver is nothing if he is not stubborn, and in the next conversation with Diggle he confesses a little of everything he has inside. He is so afraid … everything he has lived has taught him that his loved ones either die or are left alone. He feels responsible for them … but he is not responsible for anything.

Our Oliver, as always, puts a weight on himself that doesn’t belong to him, but if he didn’t, he would not be Oliver. He can’t help wondering … what happens if he spends whatever time he has left on this Earth? Those who died in his earth are alive … he could be with them and live between life and death, in between, just as he feels right now, neither really alive nor really dead, just … waiting till his bitter end comes. Oliver has given up. And it hurts like hell to see him that way.

This is Diggle who makes him see that this land has its own pain in it. Tommy is alive, yes, but he has become a murderer. His mother doesn’t really know him, his father is dead… Oliver must fight to live, not let himself die.

That conversation links perfectly with the last conversation they both have. Diggle is willing to fight for Oliver to survive, no matter what it costs, and he makes it very clear to Oliver that he is not alone, he doesn’t have to let himself die or fight against the tide alone. Oliver answers something that shows his maturity as a character: he is never alone anymore.

He’s right, he started his story, his mission, alone and without letting anyone fight by his side, even when they did it every night … little by little he opened up to them, he let them in until they became his family, indispensable people for him, people for whom he would give his life and sacrifice everything … and, suddenly, without expecting it, without wanting it … he was no longer alone.

When it’s time to leave, Oliver has had to say farewell to his loved ones, and with each of them he has been able to close a chapter that needed to be closed. If at first Oliver could only apologize to Moira, now he hugs her tightly, as hard as he can, wanting her smell to stay on his skin, with him and never stop feeling his mother’s arms around him … but he must leave, even though Moira will always accompany him, wherever he is. But before leaving, with a voice broken by pain and unsaid words, he says he loves her. It is a confession that the Oliver who returned from Lian Yu would never have dared to make, but that this Oliver, after years of learning, has no doubt in saying so.

 

After this farewell comes Tommy, a defeated Tommy, after realizing who he had become … a Tommy who has finally removed his mask and shows how he feels: broken in pain. In this talk we discovered that, apparently, he blamed Oliver and the city for what had happened to Thea, but that he actually blamed himself and it is Oliver who has the maturity to tell him that everyone should take care of their own  mistakes, without blaming others. Speaking of character growth, the man who carries the sins of all in his shoulders, is saying this. 

Oliver and Chase’s farewell is special, Chase is what he could have been if his desire for revenge against Oliver had not dominated his life … but he never was.

As for Laurel, Oliver tells her what he always wanted to say her in life, that the city was lucky to have her as its protector. In his land, Oliver never wanted Laurel to take a risk and often refused her help as Black Canary, he blamed himself for her death. But now, Oliver is able to see that Laurel made a decision for herself;  the decision that made her happy.

All these farewells speak of an important growth of Oliver’s character and his maturity, but not everything could be a bed of roses and when that land disappears before his eyes, Oliver has to once again watch Moira and Tommy die in front on him… and that will always accompany him but, at least, he will have the certainty that they have left in peace with him.

As for the history happening in the future, we must recognize it is the weakest of those we have seen in the episode. Mia must get used to working in a team, and keeping an eye on her brother and she’s struggling with both.

She is not used to anything more than taking care of herself but now there is William and she promised her mother that nothing would happen to him, she doesn’t want to fail her, or her brother … she feels responsible for him and, at the same time, doesn’t know how to protect him and that is killing her, she feels helpless.

At the same time that she feels this, Mia is used to working alone, just like her father when he started his mission, she doesn’t like team methods or following specific guidelines… she must learn that she is no longer alone, and that sometimes we all need help. At the same time, Zoey must also learn that now that they work together, it is not just about doing things in one specific way or another, but about combining their strengths and finding a different way.

Arrow — “Star City 2040” — Image Number: AR716b_0187b.jpg — Pictured (L-R): Katherine McNamara as Mia/Blackstar and Joseph David Jones as Connor Hawke — Photo: Katie Yu/The CW — © 2019 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

 

As highlights of Star City 2040, we can talk about the “transfer” of Oliver’s quiver to Mia by William, and with it, the legacy of Oliver: Green Arrow. The mantle is also passed from one generation to another, and who is responsible for passing Oliver’s mantle is none other than William. It’s perfect and emotional, to the point of tears.

In addition, as a point of intrigue, we have seen in the future a very strong Deastroke, as in the best times of Slade and it is quite striking … as it is that he had the opportunity to kill Mia (in a scene parallel to that when Felicity lived with Slade), and didn’t kill her. Quite interesting points to develop for a future spin off.

In another order of things, sometimes I’m surprised with the ability to shade that the writers of this show have. They have made Laurel say, with an almost contemptuous gesture, that she has no romantic relationship with Green Arrow, just as they have made Chase, as the Green Arrow, and not Oliver, call Laurel by a well-known nickname of her from  the comics: “pretty bird”.

This other land shows Dinah and René as villains and my reaction has been such that:

I think that on this earth both show their true face.

As for the stunts, the truth is that they have been abundant and of a good quality, like in the pilot. Highlights are all of Oliver’s fights and, of course, that of our new Green Arrow, AKA Mia Smoak Queen.

As the conclusion of the episode, this season is not a normal one, this means that in the episodes we cannot look for a backstory that connects everything until we reach a final apotheosis; we all know that the stories of the episodes only lead us to the crossover and the much announced Crisis.

So, in this season each episode is a story, a small tribute to each season of the series as they lead us inexorably to the crossover. This is how you have to think about each episode. We will not find great spun stories, but a self-concluding episode that will lead us to remember past times, one whose only common thread is the future crossover.  That’s how this episode has been, and felt.

That said, the episode has been entertaining, full of nostalgia but … nothing more.  There have been no big surprises, there hasn’t been something that made us jump out of our chairs. It is so beautiful to relive certain moments, to be able to reconnect with certain characters, even in a role highly anticipated by fans (for example, Tommy), it is beautiful, it is emotional … but it is fleeting. It’s like a shooting star in a sky without stars. It is so bright that it dazzles, but then it just goes off.

The episode has been full of those moments as rare as shooting stars. Moments that shone on their own, but only did so for a moment, while the rest of the episode felt monotonous and almost no surprises. It has been like seeing a sky with few stars, you see their brightness, you can see they are there … but their brightness is dim and ephemeral and  lost in the vastness of the sky; for a moment you can almost touch them with your fingers and feel them on your skin but … then they disappear and all is lost. That’s how I felt watching this episode. An episode watered with great and good moments that compensate enough for the rest of the monotonous footage, but Arrow can give more and fans need more. We need everything the show can give us, because it will be the last thing it gives us.

Agree? Disagree? Don’t hesitate to discuss everything with us in the comments below!

Arrow airs Tuesday on at 9/8c on the CW.

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