“Knowing what’s happened can either destroy us or save us. We’ve seen our worst. Now let’s be our best.”
Continuing its farewell tour by revisiting past season arcs, this week’s Arrow adds a bit of future tense into the equation when Connor, Mia, and William are plopped from 2040 and dumped smack dab in the middle of Team Arrow’s HQ, to the surprise of everyone involved.
First things first, the old narrative used in “Present Tense”—Deathstroke’s crusade to destroy Star City to hurt Oliver—substitutes his son and founder of the Deathstroke gang, Grant as the episode baddie. As a threat, Grant is hardly worth getting excited over. Add to that the disappointing action pieces and subpar climax and, for a show like Arrow, where action is an integral part of the storytelling, and you wouldn’t be out of bounds to think this week’s affair was a disappointing affair.
Thankfully, you’d be wrong.
“Present Tense” resumes the gem-lined tracks of the emotional rollercoaster that has thus far been a massive component of Season Eight. It’s as if, in knowing the show in its current iteration is nearing its end, the actors (fair play to the writers, too) have channeled parts of themselves that, in the past, they weren’t able to reach on a consistent basis. Stephen Amell has been especially brilliant, and his yeoman’s work continues in a handful of scenes where he faces the wonderful albeit scarred people that his children have become in their lives without him. With William, Oliver has a relatively easy transition, in part because William admits to his own faults as a teen angry at his father. Having Oliver in his life and then not having him—effectively losing three parents (his mother and Felicity, since he never saw the latter growing up)—allows him to appreciate the chance to make amends with Oliver, past be damned.
Mia is an entirely different story. All her life, she’s been fueled by the paranoia and lack of socialization born of being raised in seclusion. Her anger is a living thing, one which makes it difficult for her to reconcile with her father. Despite my issues with her character, Katherine McNamara is wonderful here; it’s easy to write her performance off as nothing more than a regurgitation of her default setting of a lioness with her claws always out. But taking a closer glance, the pain every time she speaks to her father is clear. Its origins are, unlike William, never having the opportunity to know Oliver Queen other than the things she’s heard or read. She never just knew him as “Dad”. Being fair to her, it’s a heartbreaking situation, one not so easily wiped away. And even at the end of the day, as they eventually do find a shaky common ground, Mia must be willing to let the anger fade away, particularly if they want to change their terrible future.
From an emotionally engaging standpoint, “Present Tense” is as good as Arrow gets. All our old mainstays—Oliver, John, Rene, Laurel, and Rene—have powerfully cathartic moments, with their children, each other or, in Laurel’s case, a kindred spirit. It’s disappointing that the Deathstroke narrative didn’t stick the landing, unfortunately hamstringing an episode that was this close to being great. Still, with the old gang now working with the new, and Oliver set on heading to Russia, my confidence in this final season being the best we’ve had since the outstanding season 2 is at an all-time high. All they need to do now is bring Manu Bennett back…
- With so many impactful character moments, I thought it fair that John and Connor’s reunion get its own segment. I’ve never been enamored with Joseph David-Jones’ portrayal of Connor until this week. Too often he’d vacillate, not quite maintaining the conviction a character of his ilk and renown should have. This time around, he went all-in, capturing Connor’s guilt and pain while also keeping his foundational strength. David Ramsey was outstanding as usual, the heartbreak of finding out that his son becomes a sadistic murderer up there with the worst things a parent can find out about their child.
- Worse than Diggle’s own pain is Rene finding out about Zoe’s murder. Ever the emotional character, Rene’s reaction to the Zoe jumps off the screen. Thankfully, Dinah is there for him. Her unwavering support and idea that the future is not set in stone, gives Rene a renewed purpose. For us, as viewers, we’re given the seeds to the series spinoff, Green Arrow & the Canaries.
- Once again, Mar Novu is making moves. Promising Laurel the return of her Earth in exchange for betraying Oliver is as shady a thing as he could do. He’s playing Mahjongg while the others are playing with sticks. And yet, are we really sure this is Mar Novu? Could it be his other half, the Anti-Monitor? Or, like Doctor Strange, is every action Mar Novu takes, no matter our perceptions—even relocating the future kids into the present—calculated as to what’s most likely in saving the multiverse? We only have a few more weeks before the Crisis begins in earnest so, until then, let the speculation continue.