It is rarely wise, nor valuable, to judge an episode based on how exciting that episode’s cliffhanger might be. That’s set-up as well as story, a tool designed to get you to come back and keep you excited about the following chapter. There’s no guarantee that your terrific cliffhanger will lead to a terrific episode, nor that it will impact the next episode in any way. (Last week’s Arrow is an sort of example—while not particularly cliffhanger-y, that great Lyla ending makes the subtext interesting here but otherwise plays no role in the proceedings.) “Leap Of Faith” has many parts, and one of those parts is its ending.
And its ending rules.
(At this point you’ve had plenty of time to jump ship if you haven’t yet watched this episode, so I’m going to dig into its ending now. If you haven’t seen it, maybe watch first?)
We can’t know if the episode or episodes that result from this collision of future and present (and possibly past?) will be good, but wow, it almost certainly won’t be boring. Some of you don’t watch DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow, some don’t watch The Flash, and probably at least a few of you don’t watch either. So for the five of you who meet that description, know this: This doesn’t feel like an Arrow twist. This is a Flash twist, maybe a LoT twist if it were slightly weirder (on Legends, there’d be a unicorn involved or something). That’s not to say that Arrow hasn’t found ways to have its protagonist come face to face with family members long-dead, yet to be born, or otherwise somehow a stranger to him. It’s just that there’s usually some kind of cheat to it—it’s a dream, or a hallucination, or an alternate earth. This, it appears, is just his two kids (and Diggle’s son) landing, bloody and weepy and tired, in front of their young parents.
Part of what makes it so effective is that Zoe’s apparent death (very distressing for a character we don’t know all that well—at least as an adult) seems to be the episode-ending shocker. And a shocker it is, for several reasons. First, people who get knocked down on Arrow usually stay down, unless they are one of our heroes. So Zoe (Andrea Sixtos) hits JJ, and you think that’s it. Nope. Second, the episode’s prominent theme—the ease with which three of our heroes can risk their own lives but struggle to let others risk theirs, even when they’re obviously capable of taking care of themselves—sure makes it seem as though basically everyone is bulletproof for the hour. And third, it’s early in the season for a main character death, and in the future storyline at least, Zoe certainly qualifies.
There’s another reason that ending is so exciting: the comparative weakness of the future storyline. Some good acting moments and that terrific ending aside, the same is true here. Great villain (Charlie Barnett, still excellent), good cast, interesting dynamic, but the dialogue often feels like placeholder text. Little to no subtext, dull language, not much surprise. JJ’s line about the amount of blood in a person could have come from a Damien Darhk reject pile, and Mia in particular comes across as a bundle of toughness and feelings, rather than a person. So the idea of pulling these interesting characters and solid performers into a story that’s been great in this young season is very attractive.
That might not stand out so much if the rest of the show weren’t firing on all cylinders. The B-story sees Digg and Lyla off on a mission to rescue Sandra Hawke and her young son, Connor (yes, that Connor); it’s good but is mostly an excuse for John to contend with the trauma of seeing an entire world die, and to get wee Connor on the scene. The real story is Oliver’s continued This Is Your Life world tour, this time bringing him to Nanda Parbatin search of Nyssa (no luck), Thea (Willa Holland! Hurrah!), and information (yes, but it’s not good.) It throws Oliver and Thea in the path of Talia al Ghul (Lexa Doig, a top-tier recurring performer in this writer’s opinion) and Athena, whose conflict with each other, awareness of Thea’s position with regard to the dormant League of Assassins, and general shiftiness make them a huge complicating factor.
This all leads to a sequence of Indiana Jones-esque set pieces, though considerably less fun (as the characters acknowledge). Doig, one of Arrow’s most reliably entertaining guests, brings a unique, controlled, sardonic energy to the proceedings; she always seems dangerous, capable, untrustworthy, and like a very cool person simultaneously. You want Oliver to trust her and know he shouldn’t, just as you want her to win when that’s clearly the worst option. Such is her power. And Thea, wonderful Thea, has always been great, even when the show had no idea what to do with her.
She’s especially welcome here, because it’s fascinating to see the direction that Arrow has taken her and how it has shifted her dynamic with Oliver. That conversation they have about the failings of their parents may not be unique in Arrow, but one so reflective, so simple, and so evenly weighted certainly is. The idea that Oliver wants to protect her for himself, and that she can recognize and understand that (even if she ignores him) is new. And that lovely farewell, something we’re likely to see more and more often, makes for a much better farewell than her first.
So sure, the future stuff isn’t totally working, but this is an episode of Arrow in which Diggle and Lyla talk about their marriage and dance while performing a rescue mission, all while Oliver, Thea, and Talia have an adventure on Nanda Parbat that ends with Thea and Talia founding “a League of Heroes.” How can you not like that?
- “We’ve kinda killed off every league member, haven’t we?”
- “You memorized it?” “You didn’t?”
- This episode, credited to writers Emilio Ortega Aldrich and Elizabeth Kim, was directed by Katie Cassidy. A good job by all, future-timeline stumbles included. And Cassidy nailed the holy crap out of that last reveal.
- HBO Max just announced a Green Lantern series from Greg Berlanti. What are the odds that Berlanti follows through on the John-Diggle-as-Green-Lantern hints they’ve been dropping for years, and that that’s David Ramsey’s next gig? (I think that sadly that’s unlikely, but who knows.)
- I have grown to appreciate Stephen Amell’s comic timing more and more with every season, not that he gets to use it all that often. In this episode, the peak is the beat he takes when he realized they have to burn the scroll. Weirdly funny.
- The graffiti at the Deathstrokes’ lair looks like it’s straight from the set of a Disney Channel series in 1991. (And that’s Queen Consolidated, right? Looks like Curtis’s old workspace.)
- From the way Lyla talks to Digg about living in the moment, my guess is that the Monitor told her that she also has to die.
- Was there any salmon ladder?: No, but Thea and Ollie did Free Solo up that cliff face.
- TAMVP: Lexa Doig! Talia in everything! All Talia all the time! Talia and Thea buddy comedy! Will also accept a Talia-Nyssa team-up show since Willa Holland doesn’t really act anymore!
- This week’s Arrow as a Crazy Ex-Girlfriend song, as Diggle and Oliver process their many feelings: