Arrow Season 8 Episode 4 Review: Present Tense

Oliver Queen and his kids take on a terrorist in a Deadshot mask in one of Stephen Amell's best performances to date

This Arrow review contains spoilers. 

Arrow Season 8 Episode 4

Stephen Amell has done some of his best work so far this season, and this episode tops it all. Amell has long said that the only thing Oliver has left to do is leave a legacy, and there’s no more literal translation of that than his children. After (for them) decades and his own death, in “Present Tense” he finally gets to see them again. For him, it’s a preview of how it will all turn out, a chance to skip ahead to a part of the book he knows he won’t live long enough to read.

I’m sure there will be a Monitor- or Crisis-related explanation for how this has happened, but for now, this episode feels like a gift lovingly prepared for loyal fans. It’s the very best kind of fan service, the kind that is character-driven, well-acted, deepens our understanding of these characters, and doesn’t let any of them off the hook easily.

One of Amell’s absolute best scenes in the entire series has to be when William came out to him. William comes out on his own terms, with the same maturity he brings to everything else, including his astute parenting advice. Amell’s delivery of Oliver’s response, “Yeah buddy, I know,” was just a warm, supportive, reassuring face. It seems like such a small thing, but his face says it all. This scene comes under “less is more.”

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It shouldn’t be a big deal anymore, but the reality is that straight is still the default and discrimination is real. There’s no guarantee that your own parents will respond well, even in 2019. Ollie acknowledging that it’s “on [him]” that William didn’t feel comfortable enough to tell them is such a wonderful way of flipping the narrative on coming out. It wasn’t his 13 year old son’s responsibility to tell him, he’s acknowledging that it was his responsibility to create an environment that made his son feel comfortable to tell him.

read more: Everything You Need to Know About Crisis on Infinite Earths

Amell is doing seriously amazing work throughout the episode, including subtle moments like Oliver’s eyes welling up when he finds out his kids grew up apart, the fact that William never saw him again after he left the penthouse, and that Mia grew up alone in the cabin with Felicity. Another great scene is the fight between Mia and Ollie when she wants to charge out and get Wilson and challenges Oliver to a fight. You can see all of his anger in her, all of the same hurt he had when he found out about the Undertaking or about any of his parents’ other shortcomings, right there in Kat McNamara’s wet eyes.

Speaking of Felicity, I call BS on that flimsiest of excuses for her not being there. William’s worried because they’re not sure how time travel works? Yet it’s fine to bring in Laurel? (No offense Laurel.) There’s nothing to be done about it, but it must be said that Oliver’s immediate move to call her was played perfectly and the excuse that he couldn’t was not particularly compelling, unlike just about everything else in the episode.

The episode managed to handle heavy themes like Zoe’s death, JJ’s terrorism, Mia’s feelings of abandonment and the parents’ reactions to all of the above with more of the sly sense of humor and overall levity that has characterized this final season. Amell is the biggest factor, flexing his wry comic sensibilities as Oliver poked fun at himself and the many traits Mia obviously inherited from him. Ben Lewis brings a major assist as well, and it’s a true joy to watch William and Ollie interact as adults, reunited and their once-fractured relationship healed with time and the work that William has clearly done to grow as a person. It all happened off-screen, but Ben Lewis finds a way to bring a knowing wisdom to his performance that belies someone who has worked through their own emotional demons. 

read more: David Ramsey on Directing the 6th Episode of the Final Season

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Echo Kellum’s return as Curtis was such a joy of breezy energy that it (mostly) made me forgive Felicity’s necessary absence. It helps that we now have official confirmation that Emily Bett Rickards will return for the series finale. Curtis does indeed look great with that beard, and his patented word vomit-y sense of humor only added to the episode’s overall loose, fun feel. Smoak and Holt 2.0 was a great duo – it’s a nice bonus that William has a role model in his life for what life can look like for a happy, successful gay tech genius.

If there was one point in this episode that gave me pause, other than Wade Wilson saying, “Make Starling City Great Again,” for sheer on-the-nose cringiness, it was John Diggle’s reaction to Connor. Obviously there needed to be some moment of John taking a beat to process the information that he adopts Connor and later, more than a beat to process that JJ becomes the leader of the Deathstrokes. But from Connor first calling him “dad,” Diggle recoiled in a way that felt thoroughly uncharacteristic. Shock and confusion makes sense, but that looked more like suspicion or outright rejection. I don’t care what’s going on, when John Diggle sees a young man who needs him, he doesn’t recoil.

read more: David Ramsey on Diggle’s Sons

This episode cooked up a more interesting reason to go to Russia than I was expecting (plutonium) and continues to move Dinah and Laurel closer to founding the canaries and their spinoff show with Mia. I’m glad the kids are still in 2019, but for how long? Will Laurel be able to stay true to her own moral compass, and – key question – does that necessarily mean staying true to Oliver? Remember, we still don’t necessarily know the true terms since there’s so much mystery and distrust surrounding the Monitor. In this final showdown will it be Oliver’s life versus all of Earth-2, or Earth-2 versus the rest of the multiverse?

Other notes:

This week continues Nyssa-watch: four episodes of the final season and we haven’t seen her yet, but everyone seems to be talking about her. Mia mentioned being trained by her and I still need to see her!

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“Wow, mom really liked playing fast and loose with the fourth amendment, huh” THANK YOU WILLIAM

Dinah did a TON of emotional labor this episode with Rene and Diggle. I hope she gets a break.

Laurel has so many gems this episode:“Clearly no one has informed you that I used to play for team villain.”“God no, I would never tell anyone to listen to Oliver Queen. No offense.”“Do you really think we changed things tonight, in the future?” “You mean in like a baby Hitler kinda way? Butterfly network?”

William with the great casual apathy on kids: “Don’t get me wrong, kids are a miracle or whatever.”

I love Curtis for being horrified that Mia hasn’t seen Shawshank: “Are there no movies in the future?”

Also filed under Laurel is Awesome: when the Monitor shows up, she immediately knows who he is and looks at him like, “yeah, okay, so what do you want?”

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