Arrow Season 8 Episode 1_ _Starling City_ Premiere Review
Photo: Jack Rowand/The CW — © 2019 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

“I can’t prevent whatever it is that’s going to happen to me, but I will be damned if I’m gonna put other people at risk.”

On a mission from the Monitor, Oliver finds himself on another earth where familiar faces, some long dead, has him re-evaluating his importance in the lives of those he loves while the certainty of his future fate may not be inevitable.

One of the more captivating aspects of “Starling City” is how it drops the viewer into Oliver’s situation with nary an explanation about what the frack is going on. Back on Lian Yu, Batman’s cowl on the pike instead of Deathstroke’s, it’s one of those twisted beginnings that forces you to pay attention at how the story unfolds. And, more than any other Arrow in recent memory, it plays to the nostalgia of seasons past when Oliver’s reunited with his mother Moira, best friend Tommy, and others he’s not quite as happy to see in Adrian Chase and Malcolm Merlyn. But aside from those wonderful trips down memory lane (more on that ahead), “Starling City” finally sheds light on Oliver’s conversation with the Monitor in last year’s season finale.

With her bad-ass new look, it’s great having Katie Cassidy’s Laurel back in the Arrow-verse prime. (Photo: Jack Rowand/The CW — © 2019 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved)

Knowing that he’s slated to die, Oliver’s on a mission to gather dwarf star particles at the Monitor’s behest, though the being refuses to share his reasoning behind Oliver’s mission, only that this particular world (Earth-2, I believe) out of the multitude is one where these particles can be obtained. It’s an easy enough mission, except when Oliver runs across the Dark Archer.

Being that this is an Elseworlds of sorts, Malcolm does not reprise his role as the dark Archer, as was the case in the more familiar Arrow-verse. Instead, his son Tommy has taken on that mantle, the frustration and rage at being unable to save Thea from OD’ing driving Tommy to gain vengeance on the Glades, where the drugs that killed her originated. It’s a fascinating bait-and-switch, this version of the Undertaking, though the resolution of this storyline is one of the weaker aspects of “Starling City”. An arc that took place over the entire first season cannot be done justice in a 60-minute window. Still, watching Oliver reconnect with these long-dead characters—and that includes some great moments of machismo between him and Adrian Chase, this world’s ‘Hood’—gives a welcome spark to the premiere that will hopefully carry on throughout the shortened final season.

Like The Flash, everything on Arrow is a path leading to the highly anticipated crossover. It’s not just the Monitor’s role in “Starling City” that makes this the case, but the final moment when Oliver, Diggle, and Laurel watch as the antimatter wave rolls through Earth-2, removing everyone it touches from existence. Oliver watches on, helpless as first Moira and then Tommy are dusted before him, the similarities to Infinity War undeniable. Yet even with some of the issues that have harangued this show for years—particularly the inconsistency and unoriginality in the fight scenes (though Oliver’s one-on-one with Adrian Chase/the Hood is fantastic)—the sense of urgency that “Starling City” provides suggests that this will be an Arrow season unlike any other. With its shortened order of episodes, there’s not much room for tackling storylines and character development that doesn’t pay dividends towards the end game. This tighter rein can hopefully blast away the show’s tendency to lag and introduce unnecessary plot lines. At worst, “Starling City” is a powerful start on our road to the end of Oliver Queen and Arrow. At best, it’s a sign that the final season may be the best yet, even overtaking the incredible season two.

­You Will Save This City Existence

  • The best thing about these ‘what if’ stories is putting familiar characters into unfamiliar roles. Though we get Oliver, Diggle, and the reformed Earth-2 Laurel, seeing the other characters in such a different light was a big part of the episode’s entertainment value. Malcolm cowering for his life instead of seeing the bad-ass we’ve come to know and loathe, Tommy being driven by anger and loss, a somewhat sane Adrian Chase fighting the good fight (and possibly being mentored by Batman himself); it’s such a great change to the series’ meta and is done well enough that I lament the fact we won’t be able to see more of these role-reversals going forward.
  • For all that “Starling City” does well, it still has one massive albatross that brings it down. While I respect what the writers are trying to do with the flash-forward, it just doesn’t work. Whether it’s the characters or the narrative itself, nothing about the new Team Arrow captivates me, and that goes all the way back to their introduction last season. Maybe things will get better as the season goes on but at the moment, these peeks into the future are doing nothing but taking valuable story time away from what truly matters.