Arrow: 5.08 Invasion!
I noted in my review of The Flash installment of Invasion! that it felt like an episode of The Flash even under all the crossover fun of seeing these characters brought together. Well the Arrow segment was undeniably an episode of the parent show; the darker middle part of the trilogy, it was also much more emotionally grounded while still feeling like an epic continuation of the crossover saga. I don't think I'll go as far as to say it is going to be The Empire Strikes Back of the Invasion! trilogy but it certainly had some slower, emotional beats before it concludes with Legends Of Tomorrow.
It was also the 100th episode. I wondered just how Invasion! was going to deliver on that without sacrificing the epic scale of the crossover; fortunately the episode utilised the classic sci-fi angle of 'aliens controlling their minds, sticking them in a dream world which they have to escape'. Oliver, Thea, Sara, John and Ray were literally plugged into The Matrix and what it enabled the show to do was to reflect on the lives of these characters, particularly Oliver's, and consider their legacy.
Waking up in a reality where Oliver and his father never got on the Queen's Gambit allowed audiences to revisit old characters. It was very bittersweet to see Susanna Thompson back as Moira, last seen tragically murdered at the hands of Slade Wilson way back in season two. Along with Jamey Sheridan as Robert, they represented the family Oliver and Thea had lost. In this world they were alive and happy, Star[ling] City was less bleak and Robert was even going to become mayor. No longer the vigilante hero, weathered by so much suffering, Oliver was about to take up is father's mantle as head of the company - something he lost so long ago - and marry the love of his life.
It was the perfect opportunity to bring Katie Cassidy back as Laurel Lance and Oliver's bride to be. Not only was it a tragic 'what if' for Oliver, it was a reminder of a different path Sara might have taken had she not joined Oliver on that fateful trip. She might still like girls but this was not the trained assassin that now leads the crew in Legends Of Tomorrow. Making Caity Lotz part of this 100th episode alternate reality ensemble really worked, after all it was the show she originated on. Ray meanwhile found his way back to Felicity again as her finance. Strangely only Diggle didn't find happiness in this new reality, taken on the mantle of the Arrow. Perhaps his happiness was Andy still being alive?
The episode wisely showed these characters held in the cocoons on the alien ship, making it clear that this was the next step in the Dominator's invasion. The fun was not in wondering what was going on but in seeing how long it would take these heroes to realise what was happening and break free. It was a surprisingly emotional journey, particularly for Thea who for a moment decided to stay. I actually wondered if this was a surprise twist, Thea dying on the alien ship by choosing not to escape this constructed happy life. It was lovely to see Oliver give his parents one final hug, knowing he would not see them again. And Laurel, standing there in her wedding dress was the final angst-filled tie that both Sara and Oliver needed to break.
The very forceful attempts to contain them were fun too as Thea faced Malcolm as the Black Archer in battle, Oliver battled Slade Wilson (his face covered by his mask because Manu Bennett was obviously unavailable) and Sara going after Damien Darhk. But escape they did, right onto the alien ship.
Surprisingly, it was the moments with the crossing over guest stars that worked less well. The Flash and Supergirl seemed out of place in the darker, grittier world of Oliver Queen's Star City and the side plot to obtain the stolen device from the cyborg-like Laura Washington felt like a slightly random sub plot. Rene Ramirez was a little irritating again, deducing that all people with powers were bad (and Kara thought Oliver didn't like her). It was nice to see Felicity bringing Cisco over to the Arrow cave and meeting the new recruits and Curtis was brilliant, geeking out over hacking alien technology to locate Oliver and the other abductees.
The final part of Invasion! entered full sci-fi territory as Oliver, Thea, Sara, John and Ray escaped the Dominators and stole a ship, pursued by a fleet of alien vessels. The Waverider turning up was a great moment, setting the stage for the finale in Legends Of Tomorrow as the invasion of Earth truly began.
The Arrow segment of Invasion! was certainly not as fun as The Flash was, instead telling its own story with a smaller roster of guest stars; i.e. Sara and Ray who originated on the show. It will likely disappoint those expecting another spectacle and hilarious meeting of different heroes, but that wasn't what the 100th episode was trying to achieve. It used the narrative of alien mind control to tell a story of what these heroes had lost and what they still had to fight for. I didn't love it as much as the first part, but I appreciated it in very different ways, particularly the chance to revisit old faces. Still I am glad the story is getting back to the action for the final part as the heroes of all four shows finally get a chance to kick alien ass.