Sea Shimooka, Alex Parra
Photo: Dean Buscher (The CW)

You could be forgiven for expecting Arrow’s midseason premiere—any midseason premiere, really, but especially those of the punch-kick-wear-cape variety—to be full of fireworks. Explosions, massive fights, slow motion, daring escapes, that kind of thing. But “My Name Is Emiko Queen” has something else in mind. It sets out to establish a new status quo, and it mostly succeeds in that, frankly moving its pieces into new positions and adjusting the show’s balance in a fundamental way. There are still some good fights, and some stuff definitely explodes, but the real fireworks in Arrow’s midseason premiere needs are of the narrative and the emotional sort. It’s a new day in the Arrowverse, and yet the more things change, the more they most assuredly stay the same.

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What’s most impressive about “My Name Is Emiko Queen” is that it finds a way to still keep Oliver at or near the center of this hour, contending with a major revelation and (briefly) adjusting to his new role at the SCPD, but he is neither the driving force nor the target of that force. His role is to react, but largely internally. What’s more, while we see every current member of Team Arrow at least briefly (nice cameo, Curtis), the team itself has little to do with the proceedings. Instead, everyone adjusts to their new realities, either in the present or in the future, and Arrow establishes a whole new set of allegiances, mysteries, conflicts, and character shifts to explore. All without letting the balls tossed in the air in 2018 fall. It all continues, and it’s all changed.

The biggest shift arrives in the forms of the new Green Arrow’s new Team Arrow, and the Queen family drama that ensues. This first exploration into the life of Emiko Queen (Sea Shimooka) feels like a series-shaking paradigm shift, and yet, it’s all classic Arrow. Emiko’s got her list, her bunker, and her training montage. She’s got her “rahhhhh I have to do it all myself grahhhhh” mindset. She’s got loads of Robert Queen-related baggage, a tenuous partnership begun in part because of an unexpected injury, and a fanatical drive to take down bad guys directly linked to the death of a parent. Sound like anyone we know? Yet it still feels new, because after this introduction, the show will never be the same again.

Oliver has his own baggage to contend with, and like Emiko’s story, it feels simultaneously new and comfortably familiar, because the show has, at long last, found a way to reintroduce Queen family drama again. And if you’re going to do it, why not go big? Off-shore bank accounts. A secret family, a letter to Walter, Moira’s name attached, a secret family, a promise unfulfilled, reminder that by the way Thea was actually Malcolm Merlyn’s biological daughter, a secret family, and a secret family. Felicity is no stranger to skeletons in the family closet, and even she’s totally floored.

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Andrea Sixtos, Juliana Harkavy
Photo: Dean Buscher (The CW)

This storyline is exactly the sort that suits Stephen Amell the actor (not Stephen Amell the stage combatant) perfectly: It asks him to dig deep, but to simultaneously show precisely how exhausted Oliver is by the constant river of shit that flows his way, and that exhaustion often asserts itself in the form of wry amusement. There are only hints of it here, but it’s a quality that’s been more present in this season that any previous, and it’s always welcome.

All that family drama finds an echo in the current and future storylines for Rene, who we see acting as Emiko’s John Diggle in the present and as the (seemingly) morally bankrupted mayor of The Glades in the future—one inadvertently tied to the apparent murder of Felicity Smoak, no less. The cut from the adoring younger Zoey to the disappointed, frustrated future Zoey makes excellent use of Arrow’s familiar (though now very different) time jumps, but what’s achieved is actually much less Arrow than it is This Is Us. How does this loving family, and this affectionate friendship, become so corrupted? How does the team that got matching tattoos splinter—again? And when does the vigilante-championing Rene become an asshole in a nice suit and a very dramatic wig?  

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Rick Gonzalez
Photo: Dean Buscher (The CW)

Whatever the cause, and wherever he’s headed, this new direction for Wild Dog is one reason among many to remain optimistic about Arrow’s future, and not just because they seem to have almost entirely phased the word “hoss” from his vocabulary. The same is true for the arrival of Emiko, the continued revelations about an Oliver-free future outside Rene’s office, and the new status quo within the SCPD. There’s only one new or evolving storyline about which it’s tough to get excited, and that’s the new Suicide Squad—sorry, Ghost Initiative—starring Ricardo Diaz.

Look, Kirk Acevedo is a damn good actor, and I will gladly eat my words if this latest attempt at making Diaz happen actually works. But it often feels as though Arrow is a lot more interested in keeping Diaz (and Acevedo) around than it is in keeping up its momentum. At a certain point, you’ve got to cut your losses and find a new story to tell. The rest of Arrow seems brand new, even as it feels original recipe. It’s only the Diaz storylike that feels like it’s well past its expiration date.

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Stray observations

  • Welcome back to Arrow coverage! These are running on a trial basis, so if you want more on the continuing adventures of Emiko Queen and her merry men, read, share, and come back next week.
  • “Before you ask, no, it’s not Thea.”
  • TAMVP: This is a tough one, honestly. Juliana Harkavy did a really nice job in her few scenes, as did Andrea Sixtos, but it might have to be Rick Gonzalez. He’s got me totally off-balance. No idea what future Rene is up to.
  • Salmon ladder watch: No, there was no salmon ladder, but we did get a training montage. Love those.
  • Rene’s ominous friend (played by Raj Paul) is named Kevin Dale. Inspiration?
  • Next week: Black Siren time! 

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