Arrow: 8.01 Starling City
Arrow's attempts to be fun haven't always gone down too well. As the darker, grittier sibling in the Arrowverse, it struggled when it tried to follow the lighter path of The Flash. Only when it went back to its edgy roots in season five, did Arrow get back on track. To say season eight opener of Arrow might be the most fun I've had watching an episode, might make you question whether the show has lost it's way. However, the show certainly kept that edgy feel as Oliver Queen jumped into an alternate Earth in his first mission with The Monitor to prepare for the upcoming Crisis on Infinite Earths.
It seems Arrow season eight has gone all Sliders (and that's a good thing), with each episode seeing Oliver jump to an alternate Earth on a mission for The Monitor. This time, he took on the mantle of Oliver who died on the Queen's Gambit, staging his return from the dead on Lian Yu to return to season one-era Starling City and retrieve a Dwarf Story alloy not found on another other Earth. Starling City was an enjoyable alternate path down memory lane. Susannah Thompson, John Barrowman and Colin Donnell all returned as Moira Queen, Malcolm Merlyn and Tommy Merlyn and that nostalgia certainly carried weight as the episode progressed - from the Dark Archer to the Undertaking - all the season one tropes were there.
And there were plenty of surprises too. The beauty of alternate realities is seeing our favourite characters back from the dead or in alternate guises. It was great to see Oliver and his new allies guessing the identity of the Dark Archer, while I loved a slightly new, kick-ass version of Black Canary (Katie Cassidy playing the role she should have had earlier in the show) and the Hood played by Adrian Chase. Having Rene and Dinah as villains felt a little wasted - more a way to shoehorn them into the episode - but seeing heroes play villains is always entertaining.
There was a great twist with John Diggle too, playing on the season one tropes while finding a way to continue the present-day storyline from Earth 1, which meant the camaraderie between Oliver and Diggle - a core part of Arrow's make-up - wasn't absent from the episode. I hope he, and new Laurel, play further roles in Oliver's Earth-hopping adventures in the lead up to the crisis.
While I'm enjoying the continuing adventures of future Earth 1 characters William, Mia, Connor and Zoe, it all felt a little disjointed to the main mission of the episode, as they went up against Diggle's evil son / new Deathstroke in the wake of the fall of the Star City wall in the season seven finale. At the same time, the foundation of season seven means there's plenty of investment in the cast of Arrow: The Next Generation, and nicely seeds upcoming spin-off Canaries series.
It appears that Arrow season eight is primarily focused with the build-up to Crisis on Infinite Earths. While that could have robbed Arrow of its own identity, Starling City still felt very much like an episode of the show in its own right, focused on the legacy of Oliver Queen through his Earth-hopping adventures. And like the glimpse of the horrors to come in this week's The Flash, we also got a glimpse of the Crisis in the episode's closing moments, reaffirming that the upcoming crossover is going to epic indeed (assuming the UK gets access to part 2 on Batwoman - but that's another story)