Arrow: 8.07 Purgatory
It is fitting that Arrow should return to the place where it all began as the final episode before Crisis on Infinite Earths brings to a head its greatest hits theme. There were literal ghosts of the past for Oliver and his allies to face, in the form of villainous mercenary Edward Fryers (Sebastian Dunn) and his first ally Yao Fei Gulong (Byron Mann). Lian Yu has been a fascinating part of Arrow lore, from the superb flashbacks of seasons one and two to the jaw-dropping season five finale (less so perhaps, the island-based flashbacks of the forgettable fourth season). Having two faces from that first season back really helped cement the full circle nature of the show's final run.
With Lyla now in exposition mode, the pieces of the puzzle came together - the dwarf star technology from Starling City, the plutonium from Prochnost, built together in a weapon by scientist Robert Wong from Welcome to Hong Kong. Lian Yu, it seems, is the centre of some mysterious energy readings that has led to the return of ghosts from season's past. I'm not sure it all clicked as well as it was planned too; putting aside for a moment that these missions were designed to get Oliver in the right frame of mind to fight in the Crisis, was the bigger past of his quest to build a weapon? It all feels a little flat, but might have more weight come Crisis on Infinite Earths itself.
More successful was Lyla's journey. Saved by The Monitor years ago and shown her future with John and the threat of the Crisis to come, the final season of Arrow has seemingly retroactively changed her journey over the eight years to have her preparing heroes for the big event. It kind of works, because Lyla has always been a somewhat mysterious character, keeping secrets even from John. But the biggest surprise is that she is the weapon herself - Harbringer - and that she may have been used by The Monitor from the start. John seemed to accept this; both he and Lyla are military and sacrificing yourself for the greater good can be part of the job. As a viewer, I still found this a little hard to swallow, particularly, as Purgatory hinted, Lyla has been replaced by this new identity.
The build up to Lyla's transformation was certainly dramatic fare though, with some intense reunions, brutal fighting and even a severed limb thrown in. Poor Roy found his arm trapped in the wreckage of the plane shot down by Fryers' men, resulting in it being cut free to save him. It was a somewhat grim end to his story, while neatly dovetailing away from the events of the future storyline last season. Loss is a key theme in these character's lives but this seemed particularly cruel, given that Diggle had only just recruited him after his rage-fuelled actions last season. I'm not sure what role he will play in Arrow's final episodes, but it seems a bit of a sad ending for the man that was Arsenal.
Oliver reuniting with Yao Fei attempted to recapture some of those season one flashback moments but didn't quite have the emotional depth of other returning characters this season. Fryers was even less memorable. I wondered if Malcolm Merlyn would have been effective, though at least John Barrowman did make an encore performance in the opening episode. Shadow got a call out with Oliver's visit to her grave. While not dead, it would have also been great to have one more appearance from Many Bennett's Slade Wilson, but there's always hope before the end of the season.
While the reunions may have fallen a little flat, the revelations offered some great character moments. John dealing with his wife's secrets, Mia finding out her dad was going to die in the Crisis and that very sweet moment where she thanked him for allowing her to be part of his life for a short while. William and Oliver had another moment of father and son love, while there was even a brief but heart-warming moment where Oliver thanked Dinah and Rene for standing by him. These little scenes really lifted the episode and raised the emotional stakes for what is to come.
Arrow has always done well in the action stakes and that long tracking shot as team Arrow battled Fryers' mercenaries was spectacular. The show has grown more confident in using these big one shot action sequences over the years and this might have been my favourite. I didn't even mind the slightly cheesy slow mo as it allowed us to focus a little more on these heroes in action.
Just like sister show The Flash, a show that has also woven in the doomed fate of its lead and the preparation for Crisis on Infinite Earths into its narrative, Arrow ended with the forbidding pink skies that signalled the Crisis had begun. With Lyla now wearing the mantle of Harbringer, the pieces are set for what looks set to be the best crossover yet (frustratingly minus the Batwoman episode that will not be broadcast in the UK). I'm incredibly excited to see how this all pans out - and slightly concerned for the fate of these characters. Being Arrow's final season, anyone could be lost. Maybe its a case of who will make it to the finale early next year?