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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Arrow’s not over yet, but says its goodbyes in “Purgatory”

Stephen Amell, David Ramsey
Stephen Amell, David Ramsey
Screenshot: The CW
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You know what’s useful about the calm before a storm? It gives you a chance to get your affairs in order. Arrow has spent its final season conjuring up ghosts and revisiting forks in the road—a fitting approach both as a goodbye and as something airing in this, the season of A Christmas Carol and It’s A Wonderful Life. “Purgatory,” written by Rebecca Bellotto and Rebecca Rosenberg (the Rebeccas!) and directed by the ever-reliable James Bamford, sees ghosts conjured once again, this time literally, and then it uses a god-killing weapon to banish them—though, as Yao Fei (a very welcome Byron Mann) reminds us, the dead aren’t ever truly gone.


So yes, “Purgatory” is both the table-setting episode to end all table-setting episodes and a message: That was nice, but it’s over.

Bamford, who it seems will leave Arrow with 18 episodes under his belt—by far the most of any of the show’s directors—makes a meal out of an episode that is, essentially, just a stopping point on the way to Crisis. They need the weapon, and it has to be built on Lian Yu because of ghost-creating power spikes? Sure. But that’s not the point. The big point is that everyone gets a chance to arrive at the place Oliver arrived in “Reset.” Maybe note acceptance, precisely, but something similar. Something like letting go and enjoying what you have, while you have it. Something like this.

I’ve thought about this scene, one of Arrow’s very best, a lot this season, and it looms particularly large this episode. That’s not just because William (Ben Lewis, who remains a highlight of this season) brings it up when he’s talking to his sister, who never had reason to hear such a speech. “Purgatory” concerns itself with nearly all its characters confronting some internal conflict—guilt, fear, self-recrimination, long-simmering resentment, helplessness, grief, broken trust, the list goes on. It’s not universal—Dinah, Laurel, and William take a bit of a backseat—but the rest are pretty busy. Diggle, Mia, and Oliver are in for a particular workout, though two of the episode’s finest moments belong to Lyla (Audrey Marie Anderson) and Roy (Colton Haynes) respectively. More on them in a moment.

There are a number of top-tier scenes in this sucker, though the back-to-back double-whammy of Diggle and Oliver and Oliver and Mia takes the cake. The Mia scene, Katherine McNamara’s finest on the show to date, is the big moment to which the episode builds, and it delivers. For my money, however, the winner in a pack of winners is that Digg/Oliver scene, a deceptively simple little showcase for David Ramsey, Stephen Amell, and a relationship that the show’s writers have spent years building. Diggle comes to terms with a possibility he refused to acknowledge in the season premiere, to the team’s detriment: that Oliver really will have to take on part of this on alone. Oliver gets to show his gratitude for years of friendship and that moment of understanding. And most importantly, both realize that just because Oliver may go where Diggle can’t follow, they will neither of them be alone, because brotherhood isn’t about going down fighting together. It’s just about being brothers. Even when they’re alone, they’re alone, together. (Like the trees they stand beneath in that scene, pictured above.)

That realization is underlined by the other big moment contained therein, which is Oliver’s request that post-Crisis, Diggle finds Felicity and to tell her that William and Mia deserve to grow up together. They get to be siblings. Oliver had Thea, and he had Diggle, a brother in his chosen family. They deserve to grow up together, and perhaps their lives will be less painful and lonely if they do. It’s Oliver thinking like a parent, and perhaps more importantly, it’s Oliver demonstrating that he believes the future can be changed.


But it already has been, because Roy lost an arm and Lyla stopped being Lyla and became the Harbinger.

These might just be cool easter eggs for comics readers, but still, the timeline has demonstrably changed. This is good news for the Star City of 2040 (though perhaps not great news for the Glades?). Remember the two great moments I mentioned? Roy’s arrives when he’s talking to Diggle, post-amputation, when he says that heroes make sacrifices, and this just happens to be his. His choice to rejoin the time already meant timeline changes, but this is a big, noticeable thing, and one that seems likely to shape where the character heads in the future. (Legends?)


As for Lyla, her final scene is great, but it’s the build-up to her taking control of the weapon, and especially the moment after, that hits home. There’s so much grief there, behind the eyes. Oliver (like Barry on The Flash) has been trying to prepare everyone for his end, but Lyla doesn’t have time for that—just one long look at John, and she’s gone. When she’s back, she’s someone else.

She’s not Lyla anymore, because we’re done with ghosts. She’s not here with another errand to run, because we’re done with MacGuffins. We’ve said our goodbyes. We’ve made our peace. It’s time for the end.


Stray observations

  • The order of the Crisis episodes means there won’t be another Arrow recap until 2020, but please follow along with Alani Vargas on Batwoman, Caroline Siede on Supergirl, and Scott Von Doviak on The Flash. I also recap Legends, but like Arrow, its installment of the Crisis won’t air until next year, so see you then. In the meantime, if you want to talk Arrowverse, find me on Twitter.
  • The returning players this week: Yao Fei, Edward Fyers.
  • Harbinger in the DC Universe. Check the tunic design—the costume they created for this Lyla is really smart.
  • And here’s a bit about Roy Harper’s historical armlessness. I’m gonna need him to get a cybernetic arm ASAP so we can get some parkour before the end of the season.
  • Was there any salmon ladder?: Reader, I despair.
  • TAMVP: You know what? Katherine McNamara killed it this week. The Mia/Ollie scenes were great, the Mia/William scene was great. But this was truly a team effort. She gets a special mention but it’s a team-wide TAMVP.
  • This week’s Arrow as a Crazy Ex-Girlfriend song. I honestly can’t believe I haven’t used this one yet.

Contributor, The A.V. Club and The Takeout. Allison loves TV, bourbon, and overanalyzing social interactions. Please buy her book, How TV Can Make You Smarter (Chronicle, 2020). It’s short!