Spoilers ahead for “Invasion!,” the latest episode of The CW’s Arrow!
The short version: Oliver and the gang get abducted by aliens and trapped in a shared hallucination where Oliver never took that fateful trip on the Queen’s Gambit. A lot of dead people are alive. They escape, and the Waverider gives them a lift back toward Earth.
The good: Oliver’s “Flashpoint,” Thea’s angst, alien space ship
The producers have been billing this episode — the show’s 100th — as a major milestone for Arrow. It brought back a boatload of familiar faces and imagined a world where Oliver never became the Green Arrow. Following that to its natural conclusion, he’s getting married to Laurel (we’ve missed you!), his parents are both still alive, and he’s getting ready to take over the family business running Queen Consolidated. The fairytale dream world is an old cliche in this genre, but they did a solid job of pulling it off here. Five seasons in, and Oliver has really earned a shot at telling one of these stories. Having aliens with mind-control tech was an added bonus to pull it off.
Everyone gets an interesting direction in this shared hallucination, with Ray engaged to Felicity (what?!), Oliver set to marry his high school sweetheart, Diggle battling his demons as the Green Arrow, Sara seems happy, and Thea is taking solace in this dream world where all the terrible things she’s faced never happened. Arguably the best? Thea. The rest of the team spends most of the episode fighting to realize they’re actually in this simulation, while it turns out Thea figured it out a while back. She just didn’t care. The Flash episode that kicked off the crossover in earnest found Thea come out of retirement and suit up at the word “aliens,” but this Arrow installment got the character right. A big storyline for Thea has been her retirement from the world of superhero-ing, hanging up her bow and trying to live a normal life. A chance to erase the past five years and have everything perfect? Yeah, it’s no surprise she was willing to give up reality to live in this fantasy. Thea’s argument with Oliver was heartbreaking, and though we all knew she’d come around in the end, it really was a poignant story. Is a happy fantasy better than a brutal reality? It’s a good question, and as we saw here, there are no easy answers.
Though it was relegated to the final few minutes, we did get some epic space ship and space battle action — and it was about as cool as could be expected on a CW budget. They’re setting up a major conflict in the Legends of Tomorrow episode designed to wrap up the crossover event, and here’s hoping it delivers. Legends has always been the “event” show of the line-up, and it makes sense they’d utilize it for the explosive finale.
The bad: It needed more aliens and crossovers, these aliens are way too dumb
This episode felt like a really ambitious episode of Arrow, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But, it really didn’t feel “big” enough for the crossover event. With the episode falling as the 100th installment of the series, the creative team had a lot of masters to serve with this hour of television. It was an interesting Arrow story, yeah, but pretty much the only “Invasion!” related stuff was relegated to the final five minutes. I’m thinking most viewers came for big, crossover insanity. You’d think they could’ve found a way to balance those stories in a more satisfying way. Rushing through the big alien spaceship reveal and escape in the final few minutes just felt like it underserved the crossover part of this crossover.
Speaking of the big escape: why exactly do the aliens leave a literal escape hatch in this shared hallucination? If this is meant to trap and distract our human heroes, why would the Dominators leave a giant building as a sign post and gateway to wake up in the middle of Fake Star City? It just felt like such a dumb plot point. Dumb, dumb, dumb. Also, how was there no one guarding them on the ship? We see hundreds of aliens, and they do know they left an escape hatch in the simulation, right? Then, Oliver and the gang are able to commandeer an escape ship in a matter of minutes, and figure out how to fly it. Sure, the Waverider swoops in to save the day, but the gang made it pretty far solely because the plot demanded it.
Fun stuff: Cisco calling out Curtis for making movie references was hilarious. Straight-up meta. Behind the scenes, a big reason they brought Curtis into the fold on Arrow was to try and emulate the successful Team Flash dynamic that Cisco brings to the team. This is not lost on Cisco, and it’s glorious. Curtis adorably geeks out over hacking aliens, and it doesn’t go well. The glitches in the Matrix scenes were a neat touch. A bit on the nose, but it worked. Diggle’s doodle of the Dominators was straight out of the comics. Nice touch. The bad guy smorgasbord was a great scene. The super-punch team up with Flash and Supergirl was worth the price of admission. Legit.
Line of the night:
“Some things you just can't fix.” -Sara
Next up: The story continues in Legends of Tomorrow, and the gang is saved by geeks.