Arrow, Season 5, Episode 8, “Invasion!”
Arrow, the third chapter of The CW’s four-part superhero crossover, took an introspective turn straight from the Matrix trilogy, as the Dominator aliens took Oliver, Thea, Sara, Ray and Diggle down a path of “what if”, as they are strapped into pods that are probing their minds and projecting a false reality in them.
It was an interestingly inward choice for what was largely billed as a splashy, action oriented battle of heroes vs. aliens. There was so much weeping in this episode, you’d swear an episode of The Flash had aired instead. However, given this was Arrow‘s 100th episode, it was also a perfect conceit to be a little nostalgic and bring back many of the characters that helped carry the series where it is today.
The world the Dominators built for their captured vigilantes reversed just about every wrong turn and tragedy that had happened to Oliver over the last decade. There was no Queen’s Gambit wreck, no affair with Sara behind Laurel’s back, no plan to turn The Glades into a crater ripe for redevelopment – basically none of the darkness that has defined the life of Oliver Queen.
Instead, Ollie bears no scars either physically or emotionally. He’s living the life he was always destined to live. His parents are alive and well. He’s about to marry his soulmate Laurel. He’s primed to take the helm of Queen Consolidated. Hell, Thea was even back to wearing shirts that didn’t cover her navel (remember when that was a thing for like three seasons?).
Much as it was with Neo in the Matrix, this perfect world the characters found themselves in just felt wrong an they started to pick at the frayed edges. That feeling only intensified when real memories started to override the perfect ones provided for them and this utopia unraveled.
Fighting back against the hallucinations also gave Arrow‘s writers the opportunity to showcase the series’ great hits of bad guys, as Deathstroke, Malcom Merlyn, Damien Darhk, Diggle’s brother and others all appear on the scene to stop the suddenly self-aware heroes.
What could really impact the series moving forward is that Oliver was able to process a lot of the guilt he’s been carrying around related to the deaths of his parents, Laurel and to a lesser degree, Tommy Merlyn. He got second chances and opportunities for proper good-byes with all of them. There’s no expectation that Ollie will no longer be all broody, but there does feel like there should be some kind of change in his outlook now that he believes the ones who he’s loved and lost in one form or another support him unconditionally.
Even though the emotional pull to stay in the alien produced fantasy world was strong (Thea was totally ready to stay, for a minute there), all the characters fight to escape their mental bonds, and then to escape the confines of the Dominator mothership to add a spike of action at the end of the episode.
All the nostalgia and introspection was counterbalanced by the events in the real world where the remaining members of Team Arrow (minus Artemis) try to find some pieces of alien tech to hack, and eventually have to enlist the help of Barry and Kara to try to retrieve it.
This gave the show the opportunity for Felicity, Curtis and a visiting Cisco to nerd out together. Although Cisco is still being a bit of a wet blanket, it’s still fun to watch the socially awkward geniuses excitedly perform fake science together.
The crossover’s greatest strength remains the chemistry between Barry and Kara. Melissa Benoist and Grant Gustin have a breezy rapport that lights up the screen. The quick little tag-team takedown of the cybernetic baddy may have been the most fun action sequence the any of the CW hero shows has produced to date.
All the fun comes to an end with Legends of Tomorrow, but this trip down Arrow‘s memory lane shouldn’t be discounted. The writers asked the stars, especially Stephen Amell, to step out of their comfort zones and put a lot of raw emotion out there. The actors and direction came through brilliantly. This episode was also a reminder that even after all the changes that happen over the course of 100 episodes, at its core, Arrow is and always will be a show about family.