Much like their big-screen cousins in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the CW’s small-screen superhero slate is also approaching a significant crossroads in its storytelling. Where the MCU had Avengers: Endgame, the DC TV universe has “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” the upcoming Fall 2019 CW crossover event which will not only adapt one of the comics’ most famous stories, it will help bring the franchise’s very first property to an end.
When a little show named Arrow premiered back in 2012, pretty much no one could have possibly imagined where it – or the entire television universe it spawned – would end up. It began, seven years ago, as the tale of a selfish playboy with fancy weapons and a hunger for revenge. By the time it concludes, though, Arrow will end its run as a tale of redemption and self-sacrifice, a lesson in what superhero television could both do and be.
Arrow, much like its protagonist, grew up over the course of its run. And with it, so did the entire DC TV universe.
By the time the show ends this fall, Arrow will leave behind five spin-offs (The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Supergirl, Black Lightning and Batwoman), a densely interconnected universe, and the proven idea that superhero series can use their fantastical settings to tell stories that matter.
Despite the Arrowverse’s origins with a show about a rich white dude, it has since expanded to include dozens of women, LGBT characters, and people of color in lead roles. (Plus aliens, clones, a sorcerer and the odd displaced time traveler.) Its series consistently reject traditional and/or expected superhero tropes by portraying its characters as multifaceted people (for the most part), and in crafting relationships – both romantic and otherwise – that have real depth and weight.
Let’s put it this way, we’ve come a long, long way from that time Oliver got dumped for sleeping with his girlfriend’s sister. And now the show appears ready to teach us how to say goodbye, as well. After all – to crib a line from Endgame – part of the journey is the end.
As Arrow and The Flash wrap up their seventh and fifth seasons, respectively, the Arrowverse is forced to confront its future in a way that it never has before. With the news that Arrow will end following Season 8 and with “Crisis” looming in the distance, this is sort of unavoidable, as the franchise must now decide not only how to wrap its original flagship show up, but determine what everything else that remains will look like afterward.
Both Arrow and The Flash have repeatedly wrestled with the idea of legacy this year, questioning what we leave behind after we’re gone and the value of the life lived in the meantime. It’s a natural part of getting older, and as both shows cross into elder statesman territory, neither is immune to looking backward and trying to craft meaning from its own history. For the most part, they’ve been successful, reminding us both of the good that the show’s teams have done, the things they’ve sacrificed along the way, and the genuine love these characters share with one another. (Hands up if you too cried when Oliver, Felicity and Diggle said goodbye to the Arrow Cave.)
But even as both shows looked backward – Arrow reunited almost every major existing cast member in its finale, while The Flash saw Barry face off once more with his first nemesis – they also laid the groundwork for the road ahead.
Both series have introduced a literal next generation of characters this year, giving our heroes a physical legacy as well as a thematic one. And in doing so, they have provided us with a whole bunch more options for future spin-offs and related Arrowverse series, if we’re lucky. They’ve embraced the idea that this universe is bigger than any single character, and have reacted accordingly, building a world that allows for both expansion and contraction as the story dictates.
Characters can die. People can leave. And fan favorites can hang up their hoods as new heroes are introduced along the way. As the Arrowverse has grown, it has become increasingly willing to embrace difficult, complex, and often painful storytelling. Oliver is destined to die. Barry’s daughter was just erased from his timeline. The Flash is apparently supposed to disappear in 2019. There are real stakes and consequences for these characters, and not every story has a happy ending.
But the people we love never really leave us. These characters will live on in the lives they touched and in the cities they repeatedly saved. New faces arrive to continue the story in the form of children, new friends (hi, Kate Kane), and returning favorites. The story continues, because that’s what life is.
It feels poetic, in a way, that the Arrowverse should suddenly decide to be so straightforward about the long-term impact of change just as its biggest loss ever looms in front of it.
Arrow has already told its audience that Oliver will die in the upcoming crossover. (Or, at the very least, disappear to an alternate reality from which he cannot return.) This is a brave move, both from a narrative and a marketing perspective, as the show obviously trusts its audience to go along on this journey with them even when they know the ending – and that it’s likely to be a heartbreaking one.
Furthermore, after the Season 7 finale, it’s not at all clear what Arrow will look like now that Oliver has vanished with the Monitor, Felicity has gone into hiding, and the rest of the show feels almost as though its primary story is over. Will Season 8 be comprised of flash-forwards to Mia and the 2040 vigilantes as Oliver visits a variety of different earths trying to save the universe? Will Dinah and Rene keep fighting the good fight in Star City?
The “Crisis on Infinite Earths” crossover feels like the end of an era, because for all intents and purposes, it will be one. Arrow will end, and the universe it spawned will officially become something else. What that will ultimately look like as the crossover plays out over five series (including Legends, Supergirl, and Batwoman) we don’t know. That uncertainty is part of the journey of growing up, too.