Arrow S05E08 “Invasion!” REVIEW
Essential plot points:
- A tattoo-less, unscarred Oliver completes a run through the grounds of the Queen mansion before having a shower with his fiancee, Laurel. This is, of course, all a dream, because he, Thea, Diggle, Sara and Ray Palmer have been abducted by the Dominators and are being held in pods.
- At the Arrowcave, Felicity and Cisco arrive as Curtis, Rene and Rory sweep the city to find Oliver. Cisco uses an old bow of Oliver’s to vibe his location, and the team try to hack a piece of the Dominators’ tech to find out more about them.
- Thea gives Oliver a gift of a Hozen – an engraved stone arrowhead – as Sara arrives at the mansion to see her sister get married. But when she sees a canary necklace Laurel is wearing she has a weird flashback that leaves her unnerved.
- Robert and Oliver leave a tailor shop, with Robert trying to persuade Oliver to take over Queen Consolidated once he becomes mayor — or else Ray Palmer will take the company over. They’re mugged at gunpoint by a thug — but Oliver instinctively steps in front of the gun to challenge the mugger, before a mysterious green hooded figure stops their attacker with a bow and arrow before vanishing, triggering more flashbacks to Oliver’s real life.
- Back in the real world, Curtis’s attempts to hack the Dominator technology blows up because of the incompatible power source. They discover that Van Horn industries made a regulator that could fix the problem, but it’s been stolen by a doctor who has implanted herself with cybernetic tech.
- Oliver meets Captain Lance to try and find out more about the Hood, and Quentin gives his blessing to Oliver marrying his daughter.
- More flashbacks lead Oliver to the Arrowcave, where Felicity Smoak works alongside the Hood – whom Oliver recognises as John Diggle despite not having met him. Diggle tells him he’s having some kind of psychotic breakdown and sends him away to his wedding.
- Back in the real world, Felicity has called in Supergirl and Flash to help retrieve the regulator from Dr Washington, much to Rene’s annoyance. He’s not a fan of superpowers, blaming them for the problems they now face. But as he comes face to face with Dr Washington, he finds himself out of his depth. Flash and Supergirl rescue Rene and take down Dr Washington, so Rene has to admit that superpowers might not be so bad after all.
- In the dreamworld Thea is also having troubling flashes of memories, while Oliver goes to speak to Laurel, apologising for not turning up at the dinner and offering to elope with her so he can be with her immediatelyt rather than go through the wedding ceremony. She is not convinced.
- Before they can do anything, Diggle arrives. He’s also been having memory flashes, as they realise the world they’re now in isn’t real. At which point Deathstroke appears and attacks them — with only Sara stepping in to save them from being killed.
- They round up Thea and Ray, but Thea doesn’t want to leave this world behind, realising it might be her only chance at happiness and being with her parents. As the rest try to leave, they’re confronted by faces from the past. Thea eventually joins them and they fight their way through the villains to reach the real world.
- Using the hacked technology, Rory recognises the Dominators’ language as being similar to the Torah, and they are able to calculate where their pals are.
- The quintet awake back on the Dominators spaceship, and battle their way off the craft, eventually getting onto a shuttle and leaving for Earth. The Dominators deploy their fleet after our heroes, who are rescued by the Waverider – sent there from the coordinates the Earth-based team retrieved from the hacked technology
- Ray realises the Dominators picked them for abduction because they’re not metahumans. Gideon translates a phrase Ray overheard as meaning the Dominators are nearing completion of their weapon — and reveals the alien mothership is now approaching Earth…
“Invasion!” is a bloody odd episode to review. Not only does it have to form the centrepiece of the three-or-four-night (depending on how you actually count) crossover event, but it’s also Arrow’s 100th episode — making the whole thing a celebration of the parent show as much as it’s a contributor to the ongoing storyline.
Given each “Invasion!” episode roughly follows the format of the shows it inhabits, while trying to service the overall crossover event as well, the Arrow segment tries to provide something akin to the flashback tropes we normally get. So “Invasion!” shoves our heroes temporarily into a dreamworld where they’re all leading other, more idyllic lives.
The dreamworld allows us to not only enjoy the celebration of the show’s past — via both cameos and flashbacks — but to indulge in a bit of the “what if…” storytelling so beloved by comics. This is Arrow’s version of Superman For All Seasons or Perchance To Dream, showing us a version of the Queen life if he and Robert (and Sara) hadn’t gone off on the Gambit five years earlier.
As such, it represents an interesting restatement of the Arrow’s values — from the opening titles showing the evolution of the arrowhead logo to the opening segment recreating the first scene of the first episode (and, cheekily, recycling a gag from the start of season four too), this is as much about paying tribute to the show and its legacy as it is about progressing the storyline.
As a result, the focus is very heavily on Team Arrow here; Kara and Barry get a spit and cough appearance, Nate’s driving the Waverider, and everyone else is nowhere to be seen. Even the new recruits get fairly short shrift; the only one we see in action is Wild Dog, and even then he has to get bailed out by Flash and Supergirl.
The flashbacks allow for some nice cameos, with Barrowman as businessman Malcolm Merlyn, and Jamey Sheridan returning as Robert Queen, along with the long-anticipated return of Katie Cassidy.
But the flashbacks, and the escape from the Dominators’ ship, also underline how much Arrow has evolved in the five seasons it’s enjoyed so far. From its early origins as a TV knockoff of Nolan’s Dark Knight, it — and its extended universe — has expanded to encompass metahumans, time travel, immortality, parallel universes, magic, alien invasions and now spaceship battles.
It’s something Oliver and his crew have to literally confront in their escape, taking on the various villains of the show’s past — from the Dark Archer to Damien Darhk via Deathstroke. In escaping the narrow confines of their own fiction, Team Arrow have to defeat the figures who made them the very heroes that made them who they are today.
Honestly, for a race that doesn’t like metahumans, the Dominators have a real sense of meta storytelling…
The star of the show is rightly Stephen Amell, and in “Invasion!” he turns in one of his best performances in ages. Normally Amell gets to do two expressions — stoic and angry, but with so much going on here we get reminded that he is actually a perfectly acceptable actor who can carry a show — especially as he says farewell to his parents and Thea, helped by some monumentally good acting from Willa Holland.
On the other hand, the stuff in the real world feels… well, a bit goofy. Rene’s rejection of the superheroes makes sense within the show and what we know of his character, but everything else — from Rory fangirling out over the Flash while in his own magical robes to Curtis’s insane glee and the whacky high jinx inside the Arrowcave… We know they want to keep things light and fluffy to counterpoint the emotional drama of Olly and co’s abduction, but you could top a million cappuccinos with the froth here.
Ultimately “Invasion!” works because it manages to do everything it sets out to. It’s a nice celebration of everything that Arrow’s achieved over the last 100 episodes, both in terms of developing Oliver Queen’s character and his narrative, and in celebrating the show’s own history from its humble beginnings to the extended universe it has spawned. That it manages to do so while still having enough narrative coherency to tell a story that advances the “Invasion!” plotline is an achievement worthy of celebration in itself
- So what should we take from the collective hallucination’s pairing off of Ray and Felicity, and Oliver and Laurel? Some never-to-be-finished business from both Ray and Oliver there, perhaps?
- The space battle. If you’d have even suggested the idea of the Hood escaping from an alien ship then flying into a space battle five years ago it would have been ludicrous, yet not only does it feel absolutely right here, but it’s also executed exceptionally well given the show’s budget. It does mean a bar that’s pretty damn high for Arrow to clear in future though.
- “Why can’t you just for a second accept that maybe this is your reward for all of the sacrifices you have made?” Thea’s speech about why she wants to stay in the dream world is genuinely heartbreaking. Willa Holland, as mentioned above, is great in the dreamworld stuff, but that scene between her and Amell especially stands out.
- Barry and Kara’s wee high five as they tag team Dr Washington is immense.
- There’s a tonne of flashbacks as Oliver and co remember their real lives. Listing them all would take too long but they’re done artfully with some key moments.
- There is some AWFUL compositing of the actors who clearly were too busy/expensive/disliked to come back for the flashback sequence, especially Colton Haynes, who’s fizzog is superimposed on a stand-in with all the grace of the closing scene of “Day Of The Doctor”…
- Among those not coming back, as you might have spotted, is Manu Bennet. So big Deathstroke is awfully quiet and keeps his mask on throughout the episode. No Ra’s Al Ghul either.
- The new recruits get the square root of hee haw to do. Rory literally might as well not be there, and Curtis’ role is to be a techy goof that Cisco can look down on. Rather than showing the recruits as a unit who can work without Oliver and save the day, and do their jobs — as we see with Kid Flash yesterday — they’re presented as geeks who need to be bailed out by the real heroes. Couldn’t we have had Wild Dog, Ragman and Mr Terrific do their jobs properly?
- The design of the Dominators’ ship is… well, it’s a bit ’90s sci-fi, isn’t it? Given Cisco likens it to JJ Abrams’ Trek, you’d hope for something a bit more Enterprise and a bit less Babylon 5 really.
And the Random:
- So the big question is… Where’s Evelyn? Somehow Artemis manages to miss all the fun, leaving Rory, Curtis and Rene to team up with Barry and Kara. Turns out, following last week’s cliffhanger, the producers figured having her about might be distracting. Dammed if they do, damned if they don’t really…
- The line about Tommy Merlyn being a doctor in Chicago was a nod to actor Colin Donnell’s new role in Chicago Med –which prevented him appearing properly in the episode. However, producers did digitally add him into the ghosts at the end — much to the actor’s surprise.
- Who knew they were Torchwood fans on Team Arrow, giving tech-thieving doctor Laura Washington the nickname Cyberwoman. Wonder if Rory’s spotted the similarity between Malcolm Merlyn and the star of Torchwood yet…
- James Bamford is your director du jour, having overseen the first two episodes of this season, helmed two standout episodes last year and previously been the show’s stunt coordinator and fight choreographer. He’s got a good eye for an action sequence, so seems an obvious pick for a big episode like this.
Review by Iain Hepburn