“Don’t leave this island with more regrets than you already have buried here.”
When a show like Arrow, which is grounded a bit more in reality than its CW brethren, starts conjuring up ghosts on an island that was destroyed a few years back, one would think that the Emerald Archer’s series was on the cusps of jumping the shark. Instead, in “Purgatory”, we get the series’ final installment of 2019 as the Crisis arrives and Oliver Queen continues to unburden himself of his past mistakes.
Continuing with his enigmatic commands, Mar Novu has the entirety of Team Arrow brought to Lian Yu to build a weapon that will help them combat Crisis. Lian Yu is ground zero this time, due to the bizarre energy spikes generated that has not only returned the once-destroyed island to its former glory but also resurrects long dead foes—Edward Fyers and Wintergreen—as well as a friend in Yao Fei. Though Byron Mann’s return as a warrior who helped Oliver understand survival on the island is a pleasant surprise, the addition of Fyers, Wintergreen, and their merry band of mercs falls short, becoming nothing more than extra bodies in what ends up being a pretty epic climax. Like the episodes that came before it, the “Purgatory” revisit of the past offers another chance for Oliver to learn from his missteps and amend his approach towards those who he’s fated to leave behind.
This season has put a premium focus on giving Oliver the chance to say goodbye to family and friends. “Purgatory” is no different. Under the guise of the episode mechanics—building “this magic weapon for a space god”—its essence lies in the beauty at which Oliver makes peace with what he will have to leave behind. Though he shares a moment with Dinah and Rene, compared to the emotional heft present in the scenes with everyone else, the pair get shortchanged. There’s no doubt that, of those on the island, John, Mia, and William are the nearest and dearest in Oliver’s heart. “Purgatory” reinforces this point, allowing him to gain closure with all three, culminating in a one-on-one with his daughter.
In every case, Stephen Amell’s delivery is fantastically honest, never quite drifting into an overt melodrama—though it has been close on a few occasions—and is given all the more power due to the inevitable finality of his fate. His scenes with John and Mia are especially poignant but for different reasons. Diggle has been by Oliver’s side from the beginning and seeing these two men, brothers in all but blood, look one another in the eye knowing that their time together is coming to an end, strikes that perfect chord. With Mia, the weight is born of her lingering anger and Oliver’s own guilt finally being stripped away and those emotional scars they have between them, while not healed, mended enough for them to put it all aside to appreciate and connect in a way they had never been able to achieve thus far. It only makes sense that this father/daughter moment is interrupted by Lyla, now “a harbinger of things to come”. It’s almost criminal that Mia and Oliver finally come together only for the Crisis to arrive.
It’s been a fascinating journey these past eight years watching Oliver Queen grow from a selfish and entitled brat to the man he is today. What this season—and “Purgatory” especially—has given us is an Oliver Queen at peace with what he must do. During their conversation at the end, Oliver tells Mia how much he once hated Lian Yu but now can appreciate what it has given him. It’s that old adage, ‘when life gives you lemons, make lemonade’ on steroids. Everything in Oliver’s life has led him to this point and his acceptance of that has lightened the load, possibly cleansing the darkness from his black and bloody soul.
We’re in the home stretch now and though the ride isn’t over and some of what awaits us remains shrouded in mystery, there’s no denying the masterful job Arrow has done preparing us for a primary character’s final sendoff with an emotionally honest quality as good as any show in recent memory.
• While the whole ‘ghosts of Lian Yu’ story was a bit tepid (save for Yao Fei’s appearance), Roy losing his arm was not. Talk about one of those ‘holy crap’ moments. I kept thinking they’d find a way to get him out of the plane crash whole, but they don’t, and Roy’s words to Diggle afterward on the sacrifices that heroes must make could just as well be talking about Oliver’s impending sacrifice.
• Mia continues to work her way into my list of most transformed characters. Katherine McNamara has been amazing this season, in part due to the writers giving her so much needed depth but watching her confront her fears and not just try to run roughshod over them has been a welcome direction for her character and makes me want to see more of her onscreen.