We owe an awful lot to Arrow.
This is, after all, the first show that believed in the idea that would eventually become the CW superhero universe. If you love The Flash or Legends of Tomorrow or Black Lightning or Supergirl, if you’re psyched that Batwoman has a pilot order or you’re looking forward to the insanity that will undoubtedly be the “Crisis on Infinite Earths” crossover this Fall; well, you basically have Arrow to thank for it.
And 150 episodes later, the show feels as vibrant and necessary as it ever has.
“Emerald Archer” not only takes a look back at what has come before on Arrow; it reminds us why we cared about any of this stuff in the first place. It sets up several tantalizing new stories for the future, and reshuffles our existing status quo in a necessary and exciting way.
Plus, it’s just plain fun to watch.
From the start, the innovative Office-style documentary format allows the normally overly serious Arrow to lighten up a bit, poking fun at its own history and bringing back a few familiar faces for quick cameos, including everyone from Sara Lance to Rory the Ragman. It was bittersweet to see Quentin Lance again – and to be reminded of how far he and Oliver’s relationship had come, by the end – but the best moment of the night has to go to Grant Gustin’s surprise crossover appearance as Barry Allen. While many of us may have forgotten that he and Oliver used to work together long before they were both masked heroes, the show hasn’t, and Barry’s unique perspective on how life as a vigilante affected the person Oliver’s become is strangely moving. (Let’s just not ask why a government agency like ARGUS would let cameramen film inside its secret headquarters, though).
The mockumentary setup isn’t just enjoyable from a fan service perspective, either. (Though that part is pretty great. We miss you, Thea!) It also allows for a bit of important self-reflection from everyone, most especially Oliver. From Episode 1 to Episode 150, the man who is the Green Arrow has come a long way, and “Emerald Archer” manages to deftly highlight Oliver’s growth as a person without beating people over the head with the idea that it’s some sort of “very special” moment. For example, he now shares information instead of keeping secrets! He lets other people’s opinions stand without trying to browbeat them to his way of thinking!
Admittedly, Arrow’s anniversary installment isn’t perfect, and even seven seasons in, the show can still struggle with what it wants to be. “Emerald Archer” doesn’t have nearly enough Laurel in it, there’s a strange lack of any sort of notable Olicity moment, and William’s return is kind of a dud. (Though his anger is understandable, if misplaced. Talk to your dad, kid!) But what the 150th episode does manage, in a way that Arrow hasn’t in some time, is to remind us that while vigilantism is cool and all, what really makes this show special is the characters at the heart of the story, and their relationships with one another.
Season 7 has had a lot going for it. Oliver’s transition out of the Green Arrow mask has been remarkably well handled. Arrow’s women suddenly have agency in their own stories and are driving the season’s narrative in unprecedented ways. The introduction of Emiko Queen offers a tantalizing look at what the future of the Green Arrow universe might look like. And the decision to shift the series’ trademark in-episode flashback gimmick to flashforwards set around new characters and mysteries has reinvigorated what was once an extremely tired trope.
But one of the things that hasn’t always worked so well is the fact that Arrow has so many proverbial balls in the air that it can sometimes forget to let these people just be friends, in addition to allies fighting crime. When was the last time Oliver and Diggle even had a conversation? We’ve seen more of Felicity’s budding friendship with Earth-2 Laurel than we have of her existing one with Curtis. Rene is spending more time with the so-called NGA than his old Team Arrow compatriots. And does Dinah do anything but hang out at the SCPD?
“Emerald Archer” – finally – brought them all back together again, and it felt like coming home. It’s honestly as though we’ve been waiting for that Diggle speech about friends having each other’s backs and learning from their mistakes for actual years. It seems the show is at last truly reckoning with the breakup of Team Arrow back in Season 6 in a substantial way and if we’re honest, it’s been a bit too long in coming. (This episode could also have used a real Oliver/Felicity/Diggle scene too, but I guess we can’t have everything.)
Whether Arrow will follow through on the promise of Diggle’s words remains up for debate – though the seemingly inevitable decision to deputize all of Team Arrow makes that prospect more likely now than it was last week. On the plus side, almost every member of the group has now been firmly established in their own little corner of the story, with their own agendas and goals outside of their connection to Oliver. Maybe they needed to break apart for a little while to come back together again in a way that makes sense, and serves all the characters involved.
At any rate, after 150 episodes, we really shouldn’t be saying that this is the freshest Arrow has felt in years – and yet, here we are. “It feels right,” as Diggle would say. Let’s see where we go from here.
Arrow airs Mondays on The CW.