This Arrow review contains spoilers.
Arrow Season 8 Episode 2
How many times have we heard Oliver say, “there’s always another way”? As the old saying goes, history isn’t exactly repeating, but it does rhyme. In Hong Kong back on Earth 1, the pace is necessarily slower and less jaunty after the devastation at the end of the season premiere, but there’s still plenty of old timey Arrow memories, dizzyingly good close combat, and a flash forward to the Diggle brothers to boot.
In so many ways, this episode belonged to the women. Tatsu, Laurel, and Lyla each had their own moments in the spotlight. Arrow’s legacy will be discussed and debated at length, but showrunner Beth Schwartz’s legacy will surely be the meaningful inclusion of far more women in the show – and therefore anything downstream, like the upcoming Canaries spinoff. When China White was first on Arrow back in season 1, it was a novelty to have two women on screen in major roles at the same time – and there were basically never more than two at a time. Tatsu ambushing a fight with China White, to then have Laurel to show up, and then Lyla’s skulking in the background, it means something, never mind the fact that that’s not even all of the women characters in the episode or the show right now.
The mechanics of China White vs the Triad and what exactly Dr. Wong is up to is the least interesting element in the episode, serving as a host for the memory lane of the setting and a way to reunite us with Tatsu, China White, and the Alpha/Omega drug on the nostalgia tour that season 8 is shaping up to be. Ultimately, it’s all in service of forcing Oliver to reconcile the choice he makes at the beginning of the episode to follow the Monitor’s orders with what his past has taught him, from someone who was there to see him learn the lesson firsthand.
We’ve spent plenty of time watching Ollie re-learn the same lessons on Arrow in a way that has often felt frustrating. But Stephen Amell and David Ramsey quietly show the devastation and the fear in their conversation at the secret cyber café early on in the episode. Diggle is clearly the vitally necessary secret sauce to season 8 – it’s impossible to imagine any of this working nearly so well without him. With Diggle, Oliver gets to open up about his horror that in trying to help on Earth 2, he unwittingly (according to the Monitor) hastened the destruction of people identical to those he loves, and countless others.
The episode is bookended with Oliver sharing his heartbreaking realization with Tatsu that if the Monitor is wrong, he has sacrificed his family for nothing. Stephen Amell has clearly long been an untold force of positive leadership for the CW’s Arrowverse, lifting up his own cast and crew as well as the other shows at any possible opportunity. But he’s also a talented dramatic and comedic actor, something that’s often overlooked in favor of odes to the salmon ladder or unfair remarks due to the CW stigma. If anyone still questions Amell’s capability with his craft, they should watch this season to see him flex an incredibly wide variety of muscles for two episodes of a primetime network superhero show.
Speaking of quietly powerful performances: Katie Cassidy was giving her own lessons this week. The only way to describe Earth 2 Laurel in this episode is growth. It’s hard to imagine her wanting to rush back to devastation to save people a year ago. She still has a temper, but when her earth was destroyed, Laurel relentlessly pursued her earth, just like any hero would. The destruction of an entire earth is hard to fathom, but Katie Cassidy managed to channel it down to a human level. She had multiple scenes that were crushingly emotional – it’s lovely to watch her simmer that pain right under the anger as a defense mechanism, which frankly makes her just like Ollie.
Personally, I could have done without the cheesy line after Laurel canary cried China White to come to Tatsu’s rescue. Sometimes the CW just can’t quite leave well enough alone. That was an intense scene that felt like it was building to a death and a true human cost that would not magically be undone (or one we hadn’t already paid, like Tommy and Moira). Instead, there was goofy dialogue and everyone was fine. It’s fine that Tatsu lived, especially since it seems like that’s going to play into Laurel’s post-Earth 2 development, but that dialogue was painful and tonally off.
In the future, the kiddos were outsmarted by the Deadshots while JJ and Connor talked through their fraught relationship. It’s clear that Connor blames himself for how JJ turned out, and apparently Dig and Lyla might too. What exactly is the age gap there? JJ looks older in the future even though in the present he’s a toddler (ish) and Connor is walking around. Is that just funky casting/lighting, or can we expect timey-wimey madness? Clearly something is going to go down, and apparently Connor’s parentage is no secret. Whatever it is, for now I’m fine with that story taking a bit of a backseat while we say our goodbyes to Stephen Amell/Oliver Queen and the present.
Lyla is shady as hell, and Dr. Wong is in whatever the Monitor equivalent of a blacksite prison is. I’m sure Lyla has a good reason for what she’s doing, like saving the world or even being told it would save John/Oliver, but Diggle is going to feel so incredibly betrayed whenever this comes to light. For now, Oliver will continue his reunion tour by going to Nanda Parbat – can Nyssa please show up already?
– Wow, okay, the Monitor literally said there will be a “crisis on infinite earths.” Oof.
– Oliver referring to grieving the loss of literally her entire world as “wasting time” is vintage Oliver!
– Are we gonna pretend it’s not weird to see Ollie on a computer using dang Google because his wife isn’t there to do it for him?
– Hey! Arrow going in on Hong Kong secret police and silencing political enemies! Dare to Defy authoritarian regimes, LeBron James, and the NBA!