Arrow: 8.09 Green Arrow & the Canaries
The trouble with dropping a soft pilot for a spin-off show into an existing series, is that the story can often feel out of place. For the most part, Green Arrow & The Canaries avoids this. It is very much a template for the next planned Arrow spin-off, taking Star City to 2040 and picking up the journey of Oliver Queen's daughter Mia (Katherine McNamara) in an alternate timeline created in the wake of the new Earth Prime in Crisis on Infinite Earths. With Oliver dying - twice - in the epic Arrowverse crossover, these final two episodes were always going to be a little different to the usual Arrow fare; with the absence of the lead character, it makes sense that the show looks to his legacy and that was felt more than ever in this new timeline.
It works that the future Star City 2040 story line has been running since the start of season seven. We've witnessed the journey of Oliver's kids Mia and William (Ben Lewis) in the quasi-apocalyptic future where Star City is a ruin and the Deathstroke gang run free. We've experienced the heroics of John and Lyla Diggle's adopted son Connor (Jospeh David Jones) battling their son JJ (Charlie Barnett), the tragic death of Rene's black canary daughter Zoe (Andrew Sixtos) and the rise of Mia to become the Green Arrow in her father's honour. Mia travelling back into the present and reuniting with her father delivered some of the big emotional beats of Arrow's final season, putting her up front in the fight during Crisis itself. So turning that all on its head, with a Star City now vibrant and free of crime for twenty years, really adds a new twist, with Mia herself, a socialite very much like her father in her youth.
The set-up of the spin-off Green Arrow & The Canaries is established well and there are some interesting ideas at play. Connor is now a wash out, JJ is a good guy and Mia's fiance to boot and Mia herself coming to terms with how she can follow in her father's footsteps thanks to some nifty memory reversal. There's an intriguing mystery behind Dinah Drake (Juliana Harkay), transported into the future mysteriously with her identity wiped from this timeline and Earth 2 Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy) following them all to 2040 with a grim warning of the chaos to come. It's a clever way of not having Harkay and Cassidy in aged make-up for the entire spin-off and builds on the dynamics established over the last couple of years. Some of the best moments in the episode are when they share a drink, reflecting on the past and future, two friends called back into action.
However, ideas and character history are only part of the equation and this is where the episode falls down a little. Had it been a self-contained tale with hints for the future, it might have worked as both an exploration of Oliver's legacy and the spin-off to follow. Instead, it crams a lot of stuff in without feeling very different to what we've seen before. There is another faceless future Deathstroke, another unseen organisation masterminding the events taking place in the city and some mysteries - like Dinah's journey - which rarely lift beyond the exposition being spouted. It wasn't that Harkay was bad in the role - I think she is one of the best additions to the later seasons of Arrow - but I found it hard to invest in her story line that felt just like spin-off set up rather than a natural follow-on to her (admittedly) limited story in the rest of season eight.
The cliff-hangers don't quite work in the context of season eight either. JJ getting his villainous memories back is a nice hook for Green Arrow & The Canaries. I think the dynamic between him and Mia might be one of the most interesting things I am looking forward to. But it doesn't do more than tease. Similarly, the attack on Mia and William and his kidnapping feels like an odd way to end the episode, unless this will have some darker ramifications in the final episode. I would have preferred this had been a self-contained story with just a few narrative breadcrumbs to follow through into a full series.
Katie Cassidy is great though, offering the best version of Laurel Lance I think we have seen in Arrow and she really carries the episode. Harkay offers an interesting, softer version of Dinah, which brings something fresh to the role. McNamara is decent, but lacks the maturity of the other performers; I hope the spin-off allows her to move beyond the almost brattish nature of Mia we have witnessed in the past. I think the spin-off can work, offering a very different look at the Arrowverse with its future-based narrative. But right now, I don't know whether it has the impact of its parent show; Oliver's time on Lian Yu was added an extra dimension to Arrow's story, combined with the show being one of the first TV superhero shows to really embrace its comic-origins. Eight years later, the superhero genre is very different and I think Green Arrow & The Canaries needs to be more than just Arrow Mark II. I don't think it's quite there yet.
So while Green Arrow & The Canaries works more as a set-up for the spin-off than a continuation of Arrow season eight, it does succeed in addressing the legacy of Oliver Queen. The proof, however, will be in the final episode. How will the show end, without it's central character?