Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Arrow says goodbye with tears, a mission statement, and—thank god—one last salmon ladder

Audrey Marie Anderson, Joe Dinicol, Emily Bett Rickards, David Ramsey, Echo Kellum, Rick Gonzalez, Willa Holland
Audrey Marie Anderson, Joe Dinicol, Emily Bett Rickards, David Ramsey, Echo Kellum, Rick Gonzalez, Willa Holland
Photo: Colin Bentley
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In its final hour, Arrow does what it has always done. In some ways, it reverts to what it was in the beginning, once again incorporating flashbacks, returning to the question of Oliver’s morality and when it is and isn’t okay to kill people, and questioning what a successful mission looks like, in the end. Yet in another sense, this is an episode of Arrow that could only have existed after eight long seasons of television, eight years of ups and downs, of brilliant fight sequences, of self-recrimination and inspiring speeches in equal measure, of entrances and exits, gut-wrenching deaths, improbable reincarnations, secret kids, doppelgangers, dream sequences, alternate earths, bunker banter, and, of course, salmon ladders. Like many episodes of Arrow over the years, it’s a story about grief. Like the series as a whole—even when it didn’t feel like it—it’s also a story about hope.

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And what the hell, it lets William get kidnapped one last time. For old times’ sake.

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Writing about series finales is tricky, though not as tricky as writing the finales themselves. Arrow’s is a very good one, for no other reason than that it feels good. It is, in its own quiet way, ambitious, tying up many storylines (some in a rush, it must be said) and giving nearly every character and ending that would be satisfying, should we never see them again. (More on that later.) And wisely, it doesn’t leave its central figure behind, despite his death, and instead shows him to us from a new vantage point: through the eyes of both the John Diggle of 2012, and the Digg we know now.

That’s a choice that puts David Ramsey smack at the center of “Fadeout”—an apt name for a tender, solemn, and definitive hour. That particular decision pays off immediately, and not just because Ramsey is both typically and especially great here. Anchoring this hour to John Diggle doesn’t force the show to pull away from any of its other characters, but it does keep it from spinning wildly from grieving face to grieving face. We visit Rene and Rory, we hang out with Thea and Roy, we get a tattoo with Dinah and have a minor meltdown with Laurel, we check in with Quentin and Tommy and Sara and Moira and Mia and (of course) Felicity. The al Ghul sisters, Anatoly, Emiko, the gang’s all here*.

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Yet thanks to that gentle focus on Diggle, it never seems overcrowded or unwieldy. Every time things start to wobble, we’re back with John. The episode returns us to the John of today, who can’t accept that the mission is over, or to the John of the past, fighting for a place by Oliver’s side and to save his soul at the same time. (Very disorienting to hear Stephen Amell say “Diggle” with such irritation.) In doing so, it also anchors the story to Oliver Queen’s arc over these eight years. Who he was. Who he became. And most important, it ties the story to those of us watching. Who we are. Who we can become.

Nearly all the major characters spend this hour reckoning with legacy, with how they can do right by Oliver—how to honor his mission and thank him for his sacrifice. Some of these stories work better than others. Thea and Roy basically just get engaged, which is very nice but pretty slight, all things considered. Laurel, however, wrestles with the burden that Oliver brought back pretty much everyone he loved except the original Laurel of this earth, while Rene and Dinah struggle with knowing that Oliver’s sacrifice means that Wild Dog and the Black Canary aren’t really needed. And John just can’t stop fighting for his brother, until at last, he can—and that’s when his next story begins.

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That’s one of the other beautiful things about this finale. There are plenty of nits to pick, if you feel like picking them (and I’ve picked a few above), but it’s hard to care because, again, it just feels right. And why does it feel so right? Because it’s both an end and a beginning, and with few exceptions, that will remain true even if it’s the end of the road for most of these characters. Say Green Arrow & The Canaries isn’t ordered to series. (Unlikely, but just say it is.) That means we’d end with Dinah on her bike, off in search of a city that needs a good cop and a good hero. Laurel’s got her father back and Oliver, from beyond the grave, has made it clear that she’s not some weird spare Laurel, but her own person, worthy of a good life. (And Tommy Merlyn is there too, very confused but sort of pleased.) Rene’s running for Mayor. And John Diggle is Green Lantern. Allow me to turn off my critical voice for a minute and say this: Hell yes he is.

Those are all beginnings. And when Felicity steps through that portal and emerges in Moira Queen’s old office, that’s a beginning too. Only Mia and grown-up William (and a few characters we don’t see, notably Connor, who isn’t in the car with the Diggles) are left hanging in a way that will be disappointing if their story doesn’t continue. That concern will be erased if and when Canaries arrives on the scene, and it doesn’t prevent the final act of this finale from being remarkably satisfying. There’s one last rescue mission, but perhaps we should think of it as a suspenseful means of transporting William to the funeral. That’s what happens at funerals. We show up, we mourn, we leave, and like it or not, our lives go on. But first, we all get one last speech from John Diggle—this time spoken for Ollie, but aimed at us. “It should be you,” Felicity says, and he begins to speak.

The Oliver that I meant eight years ago is not the one that we say goodbye to today. Oliver always told me that in order to save his city, he had to become someone else. He had to become something else. I always thought that meant becoming the Green Arrow, but today I realized that meant becoming a better man. The best man he knew how to be. And he took all of us with him on that journey. He changed everything. Oliver brought heroes into the world, he inspired heroes, he inspired all of us here.

I was his brother, and Oliver Queen was mine.

Of course life will go on. It always does. But how, what twists and turns it will take, I can’t say. I don’t know what the future holds, except to say, expect the unexpected. Oliver may be gone, but his mission endures. That mission lives on, Oliver lives on, in the people he inspired. Some will take that mission to the rest of the world, and maybe even beyond that. Because if the past eight years has shown us anything, it’s that this universe is far bigger than any of us could have dared imagine. Even if it is a little less bright without him in it.

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Arrow wants you to be the best person that you can be. It wants you to take that aim and share it with others. It’s a show about a guy in a mask who needed a lot of therapy, who stabbed people with sharp arrows and blew stuff up with trick arrows and flew around thanks to arrows with cables attached, a dark but goofy superhero series which chose, in its final hours, to remind us of its most noble pursuit: to tell us that we can be better. Not bad for a closing statement.

Season grade: B+

Series grade: N/A. How big is this series as a whole, compared to the sum of its parts? Big enough to blow the curve.

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Stray observations

  • * — with a few exceptions. Very sad that the end of the Canaries backdoor pilot made it impossible for Ben Lewis to join in. No adult or child Zoe or Connor. The list goes on. But I was most surprised by the absence of Cisco Ramone, Caitlin Snow, and Ray Palmer in particular.
  • Thank you, thank you for reading these over the last several years. I was so excited to take over for Alasdair Wilkins at the end of season five, and while the subsequent seasons had their stumbles, it’s been a pleasure the whole way through. I’m grateful to have gotten to experience it with all of you—and especially this last season, which is a hell of a model for how to wrap up a story in a satisfying manner while saying thank you to the fans at the same time. Thank you for reading, for commenting, for finding me on Twitter to chat about the show, and for tolerating my obsession with the salmon ladder. Please come hang out in the Legends comments.
  • And speaking of Alasdair Wilkins, this is a message from him: “I stopped watching the show after I had to relinquish my reviewing post, so my feelings are a time capsule of the show as it was at the end of season five. What I remember most fondly—what I love, even—is that Arrow started as a show in the final days of the superhero genre being defined by Nolan-style seriousness. And yet, pretty much from the start, it couldn’t help but be every bit as ridiculous and silly as, well, a CW show about the Green Arrow and all his hot friends is inevitably going to be. There’s so much: Oliver’s past as a captain in the Russian mafia! Roy and his endless parkour! John Barrowman! Resurrection after resurrection after resurrection! The arc of Arrow, then, is the show making peace between the two warring strands of its creative DNA, merging the serious and the silly into something new. Its ultimate success in that endeavor can be seen in Crisis on Infinite Earths, which took everything Arrow kicked off to its logical conclusion, and then about a million steps beyond. Quite right, too. Oh, and one last thing: ALL HAIL THE SALMON LADDER.”
  • And speaking of the salmon ladder:
  • Was there any salmon ladder?: There was! THERE WAS! THERRRRRE WAAAAAAAAS!
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  • TAMVP: Unsurprisingly, no one even sort of phoned it in. We got lovely moments from pretty much everyone, notably Aubrey Marie Anderson, Katherine McNamara, Emily Bett Rickards, Paul Blackthorne, Katie Cassidy, Juliana Harkavy, Susanna Thompson, Grant Gustin, the list goes on. Caity Lotz even got a subtle Legends-esque non-sequitur. (“This is a nice room!”) And Stephen Amell was great, of course. But this hour was anchored with telephone-pole arms by David Ramsey, and I think it’s possibly his best turn in the series.
  • One last moment of Roy doing unnecessary parkour! You love to see it. Also Roy’s arm! And Roy’s engagement! Good for you, Roy!
  • Pretty weird to follow “prison never saved anyone” with “your ass is going back to prison.” I mean, clearly that guy deserved to be in prison, but it was an odd sequence.
  • John’s speech got me all teared up, but honestly, I think it was turning off the lights in the bunker that fully did me in.
  • This week’s Arrow as a Crazy Ex-Girlfriend song. We could go with this one, as a sort of general finale thing. We could go with this one, as a musical version of Quentin’s speech. But to end things on a lighter note, I’m going to go with this one, which started as a total joke and then seemed perfect after one intrepid soul pointed out the one room in the bunker we never saw.

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!

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