We’ve got a new episode of The Flash (Season 9, Episode 8: “Partners in Time”) to talk about, as well as an Arrowverse Classic review of Arrow‘s fifth season finale: Season 5, Episode 23: “Lian Yu”.
For “Partners in Time”, I’m gonna cover it Pros & Cons style.
- The opening and closing scenes, showing Barry & Iris being adorably domestic, were charming as all heck.
- The makeup on Lady Chronos was awesome! Shame we aren’t likely to see the character again (though, hey, still five episodes left!)
- The setup, where time & space warp to keep everyone in the same room, and Barry & Iris have to figure out which of the people they’re stuck with is responsible: very cool premise for an episode.
- The execution of that premise was a wet fart. The setup for Inspector Tao not being who they claimed … not only was it super obvious, but when Barry & Iris cracked the mystery, they replayed that scene, just in case we missed the elephant-sized hint the first time around. That is such a disappointing way to resolve a mystery.
- While it’s good that Barry almost immediately acknowledged that running to the future was a bad idea … they still went ahead and did it! Do you not remember the time Iris died and you turned into a melty-faced supervillain?
- I’m not one of those people opposed to the Challegra relationship arc … I just don’t feel anything at all about it. The scenes with them are a good opportunity to check stuff on your phone or maybe get a snack.
- When Iris was scanning for someone from the future, but not finding anyone, I briefly thought: Holy shit! They’re gonna do that thing from the comics where Iris was born in the 30th Century and sent to the past as a baby! That’s a hell of a bombshell to drop this late in the game.
Arrow – Season 5, Episode 23: “Lian Yu” review
I’m not going to tell you Arrow had a five year plan. This ain’t Babylon 5, where the showrunner had the fates of all the factions and major characters planned out before the series began (even if the logistics of making a TV show sometimes threw those plans out of whack). Arrow was always a show that made up its storylines as it went along.
However, because of the way it had the present day storyline and the flashback storyline run in tandem, the show would often have the present day stuff reveal information about Oliver’s five years in hell, which the flashbacks would then have to create a story for. Since the first time we saw Oliver shirtless, we were promised that the flashbacks would eventually explain how all those scars and tattoos got there. Ditto for every time Oliver busted out a skill their old playboy self could never have learned. Plot points like Oliver joining the Bratva, or discovering a message from their father explaining the List: those were established years before the flashbacks showed how they happened.
But one of the biggest ways the flashbacks shaped Arrow’s narrative was that they came with a fixed endpoint. Early on, the show established that each season, in addition to covering one year of Oliver’s life in the present, would also cover one of the years that Oliver spent missing. Oliver was missing for five years, so by the end of the fifth season, the flashback storyline must come to a close, and finally catch up to where the pilot episode began.
This creates the inevitable sense that the end of Season 5 is also the end of Arrow as we knew it. The flashbacks always had a symbiotic relationship with Oliver’s present day adventures, the two storylines existing to contrast and comment upon each other. If you end the flashbacks, then even if you continue the present day stories, the narrative framework they exist in will not be the same.
And Season 5 embraces that sense of drawing to a close, becoming a year all about looking back at Arrow’s own history, seeing how far they’ve come, and creating a thematic bookend to how the series began. In the first season, the flashbacks showed us the hapless, inexperienced Oliver who first washed up on the island, and how they took the first steps to becoming the cold, hardened warrior we followed in the present. Now in the fifth season, that’s flipped on its head: the flashbacks show Oliver completing the journey that made them who they were in Season 1, while the present shows us how much Oliver has softened and matured over the course of five seasons (even if Oliver themself doubts that growth is real).
By the time we get here, to the season finale, it feels very much like a series finale. It ticks all the boxes: bringing back as many old characters as it can, giving conclusions to long dangling storylines, recreating moments from the series premiere, making a definitive statement about what this journey has all been about, and (for good measure) blowing up the sets they won’t be needing anymore.
Doing all this makes “Lian Yu” feel less like the climactic finish to this season’s story arc, and more like a whole bunch of things happening because they’re things you wouldn’t want to end the series without doing. If this were just another season finale, it would feel unnecessary to cram an already overcrowded episode with Slade and Oliver reconciling, Nyssa and Talia facing off, Malcolm for once being a good father to Thea, or Oliver getting to be a father to William at all. But they’re crucial here, because they serve as tribute to everything Arrow had been for five years, and to give the series the send off it deserved.
Of course, this wasn’t the series finale of Arrow. Even at the time, everyone knew there was going to be a Season 6 – that’s why there wasn’t rioting over the everyone-dies-in-an-explosion cliffhanger. And when Arrow did finally end in Season 8, it took much the same looking-backward/paying-tribute/seeing-how-far-we’ve-come approach … except bigger, with even more returning characters, revisiting the past in more literal ways than Season 5 ever could have dared, and having the entire final episode just be everyone reminiscing over Oliver and their time together.
That leaves “Lian Yu” in an odd spot, where it’s crafted like a series finale, but isn’t, and gets outshone by the real series finale three years later. Still, if a show’s going to run for 170 episodes, I suppose it can afford to devote more than one of them to nostalgic retrospection, and this ep does that mighty fine.
- A big part of making all this work within the story is the villain, Adrian Chase (a.k.a. Prometheus). Unlike previous Big Bads, who Arrow tried to make fully fleshed out characters, Chase’s backstory and inner life were always an afterthought – they’re there, because as a human being, Chase must have reasons for what they do, but it’s not where our focus is put. No, Chase functions as a pure spirit of malevolence, someone who exists solely to torture Oliver over their past, and will go to any lengths to make Oliver’s torment as poetic as possible. As such, the show can easily justify the climax taking place on a location so thematically important to Oliver, and involving everyone Oliver cares about, because Chase is exactly the sort of guy who would orchestrate things that way.
- It’s amazing that, while Nyssa has never had too terribly much to do on Arrow, didn’t appear at all this season until the end of the previous episode, and had no prior scenes with Talia to inform their dynamic … the Nyssa vs. Talia confrontation is still so damn good. Katrina Law just brings so much charisma to the part – also, continuing to call Oliver “husband” never gets old.
- Regarding Arrow not planning out its storylines in advance: when they filmed the pilot episode, I really doubt the plan was that, in-universe, Oliver was wearing a fake beard and wig when they were rescued, and had only been back on the island a couple days.
- The flashback storylines always had the feel of a grimy, straight-to-video action thriller. So there’s perhaps no more fitting way for them to end than a fight with Dolph Lundgren.
- But perhaps a more emotionally affecting ending: Susanna Thompson returning for all of one minute as Moira Queen, doing nothing but talk on a phone, and absolutely stealing the show.
Question of the Week: What’s your favorite Arrowverse cliffhanger?
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