The aims of “Star City 2040” are nothing to sniff at. Jumping back and forth between timelines in a story is nothing new, with or without time travel, but it’s not easy to do well. Introducing new characters on a long-established show isn’t all that easy, either. Doing both at once—and for all we’ve seen of Blackstar/Mia, this was essentially her real introduction—is ambitious, and that’s before you pile on the introduction of a new big bad, the defining or re-defining of relationships, the end of one nefarious plot and the beginning of another, and a last-minute reveal (hinted at throughout the season) that helps explain a lot of what’s come before.
“Star City 2040" doesn’t pull it all off. The fact that it manages to successfully accomplish any of those things in such a stuffed hour is impressive.
There are things that don’t work—and we’ll address those—but the most important aim of “Star City 2040” is the one that Arrow, director James Bamford, and credited writers Beth Schwartz and Oscar Balderrama pull off most easily. It’s all about setting up Team Arrow variation. We’ll call this one FTA, or Future Team Arrow. Whatever the endgame of Arrow might be, and however Schwartz and her writers plan to get there, it seems highly unlikely that this ragtag bunch won’t play a key role. This episode had to show us how and why they come together, what they want, and what makes them formidable. From the second Rene arrives in mea culpa mode and onward, that’s locked right in. Mission accomplished, on all counts.
The most important box to remain conspicuously unchecked is the one marked ‘character development.’ It wouldn’t be fair to say that none of the new characters and adult versions of young characters—Future William, Future Tess, Connor, and Mia—are well-drawn. But the best-developed among them is William (helped in no small part by Jack Lewis’ wry performance), and he’s a long way off from fully formed. To expect all four of those characters to have all the texture of characters we’ve spent seasons with is unreasonable, but “Star City 2040” spends a lot of its real estate on Mia’s backstory and motivations, and it’s unclear how much it actually gets in return.
That’s not the fault of Katherine McNamara, who puts a little mustard on basically every line or action she’s given, to mostly good and never boring effect. (The faraway stare as she explained her tattoo choice is perhaps too much, but it’s not dull.) It’s also not the fault of Bamford, who ably captures the thing that most defines Mia at this point, that being her pure, hungry enjoyment of the fight. And it’s not as though Mia’s storyline here is a complete misfire. Her backstory, which sees Mia run away from home because she finds out (via accidentally shot electric arrow which pierces a framed photo of her mother and supposedly dead father; it’s a lot) that her mother has been secretly acting as a vigilante this whole time, doesn’t prove particularly gripping, in part because it’s a bit hard to follow. Yet it peaks with a solid final scene between McNamara and Emily Bett Rickards, who sell that troubled mother-daughter relationship like it’s a quiver of trick arrows at a 2020 Arrow props auction.
So there are highs, but there’s also a lot of feinting at established backstories, a lot of explanation and exposition, and a lot of moodily staring off in the distance as a substitute for the kind of character-building that requires some combination of time, patience, thoughtful writing, smart and subtle acting, and a storyline that has space for showing, rather than telling. Bett Rickards and McNamara make up for a lot, but their standout final scene is also pretty much Mia telling Felicity about years of emotions so that they never have to be addressed again and the story can proceed. And since it becomes clear the moment Mia takes her new weapon from Nyssa (Katrina Law, always nice to see but only here for the training montage) that she’s destined to follow in her father’s footsteps, there’s not enough suspense pulling the audience along to make the emotional shortcuts easy to overlook.
That said, there are moments that don’t require those kinds of shortcuts. The William/Felicity reunion packs a bit of a punch, and Lewis in particular does a nice job of playing someone who wants to be composed and focused, but who just can’t get past the enormity of what’s happening in his life for a minute. (Though that’s nothing compared to his CEO flirtation routine.) Pretty much everything concerning Rene works because Rick Gonzalez, finally liberated from the tyranny of saying “Hoss” 27 times an episode, admirably underplays his arc. It might feel inevitable, but while abruptm it’s also mostly earned The reunion of OLTA—Old Team Arrow—is quietly affecting. And unexpectedly, a Spider-Man related plea from Joseph David Jones’ Connor Hawke gives the episode a thematic through-line that comes closer to making the individual stories work than anything else in the hour.
And then there’s that final reveal. This future timeline is exploring how being the child of a hero also requires sacrifice, looking at how power and responsibility intersect in the lives of those who love people willing to sacrifice their lives. But it’s also digging into the sins, and not just the sacrifice, of the parents. So the episode ends with a triumphant, pre-blunt bob Felicity Smoak celebrating the successful test of Archer, her home security system destined to become a tool used for all kinds of nefarious things. That future Felicity seems dead set on course-correcting that particular sin—power, responsibility, you know the drill.
- TAMVP: Gonna have to give this one to Jack Lewis, who’s playing William as a kind of gloating, nerdy, arrogant, strange, delightful, flirtatious oddball. He’s made William the version of Oliver who speaks primarily in once-per-month wry Amell punchlines.
- Was there any salmon ladder? No, but there were handstand pushups.
- A lot of the Mia stuff seemed kind of generically “bad-ass,” but the barefoot stuff and the ever-so-slightly wild smiles in those fight scenes felt very Sara Lance, and that’s a damn good place to start.
- I was reminded in seeing William and Felicity together of this scene, which seems to have had quite the impact on ol’ William. The line Felicity has about how Oliver “makes his sacrifices, so we have to make ours” seems particularly appropriate. For my money, this is not just one of the great Arrow scenes of the last season or two, but of the series. I suspect it will only become more appropriate as the series nears its end.