There’s no question that the Arrowverse is deeply flawed; sometimes characters don’t work, and sometimes entire seasons stumble. But after 20-plus seasons of CW heroes, the Arrowverse has done the work to create an intricate universe of heroes that it can cross over and play with. And that means that when Oliver Queen meets the future-adult versions of his two children, it’s easy to jump right past the absurdity of it and just enjoy the moment. Spoilers follow for Arrow Season 8, Episode 4, “Present Tense.”
The current plotline of Arrow shouldn’t work. Back in 2012, we were watching a show about a guy with a bow and arrow and lots of muscles doing a revenge story. Now, he’s a dad with two adult children who time traveled from the future to help him save the universe from a guy called the Anti-Monitor. In the abstract, that’s a silly, stupid plot. And yet because the show has taken the time to grow these characters, we get an effective story that unites Arrow‘s past with its present and future.
And somehow it holds together. Really well.
Last week, the show dropped Mia Smoak, William Clayton, and Conor Hawke into the year 2019—21 years into the past. This serves a lot of purposes at once. It brings the flash-forward sequences into the present, unifying a show that has necessarily split since day one. It feels more focused as a result. Everything that happens is working toward something.
While I enjoyed many of Arrow‘s flashbacks and forwards, others felt like they were there just because “flashbacks are the format.” I would be left waiting for the story to get back to the present. With everyone in the same timeline, there’s no sitting around waiting.
Arrow‘s present is tense
It also means that we get lots of neat character interactions. The look on Mia’s face when she sees her father for the first time is heartbreaking, but then things explode as suddenly these adult children are meeting their parents and having to figure out in real-time what to tell them about the future. We get this awesome chemistry between characters who have never met.
One moment that stands out is a quiet moment when William comes out to Oliver. It’s a sweet, heartfelt moment that feels real in what is an otherwise absurd setting. The two actors deliver on the premise really well. It’s a huge moment for William and for once, Oliver reacts exactly the right way. When Team Arrow Future is forced to infodump on Team Arrow Present, all the reactions feel earned. The show doesn’t have to explain them because we know all of these characters even though they don’t. Rene’s anger at Diggle upon finding out that J.J. killed Zoe; Dinah and Rene’s surprise at finding out Oliver had a second kid. They’re just there and they work.
The episode acts as kind of a ‘best of’ for Team Arrow (minus Felicity). Curtis comes back, with actor Echo Kellum bringing oodles of charisma long for the ride. Dinah Drake gets some time to shine after being out of the picture most of the season. Laurel Lance giving Mia some advice about resisting her darker impulses isn’t a scene I would’ve ever expected, but it worked. Almost all of Team Arrow is here, minus those we’ve already revisited and those who have died.
The plot doesn’t matter and that’s okay
Honestly, the actual action of the episode is secondary to all this. Grant Wilson, Slade Wilson‘s Other Son, is in Star City. This is where the past joins the present and the future. Wilson is planning to repeat his father’s siege on Star City. Only he has two Teams Arrow to deal with and one of them has five more years of experience than it did the last time. Things don’t go well for Grant. It doesn’t really feel like it matters, though. It’s there to give movement to all these other emotional interactions we were talking about above.
For how little actually goes on, this feels like a huge episode, and I’m thrilled that it works so well.
As for the tease at the end? It’s anyone’s guess. On the one hand, that could be the Anti-Monitor manipulating what he sees as an easy target. It could also be the Monitor testing someone he thinks might endanger the future of the multiverse. I don’t know, but either way should prove to be exciting.
This farewell tour is giving Arrow a surprisingly good send-off, and I can’t wait to see what happens next week.