Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Arrow 5x08 Review: "Invasion!" (And The One With What Could Have Been)

Original Airdate: November 30, 2016

My favorite episode of Community involves a storyline in which characters roll a dice in order to determine who will leave the apartment they're in and go down to pick up the pizza that was delivered. The episode focuses on different timelines in which different characters go down to pick up the pizza depending on what number the dice lands on. Each person leaving causes something slightly different to happen. One of my favorite episodes of Doctor Who involves a simple decision a character makes to either turn left or right at a stop sign, and the result of her one decision. I think the reason I love these episodes so much is because they provide us all with the sense that one action could change our fates forever. A butterfly flapping its wings could alter the course of someone's life. And maybe you're not a big believer in fate or destiny or whatever. I get that. But for me, I believe that the choices we make — even the small ones — lead us to become the people we eventually are. If Oliver hadn't gotten on that fateful boat that led him to Lian-Yu, his life would look a lot like the aliens contrived it in "Invasion!"

But is that what Oliver wants? Does he want to reset the past? Does he want to undo all of the things that brought him to where he is in this episode? If he could go back in time and stay in those pre-shipwreck moments, would he? This is a really powerful, important thing to question, and something that builds on the conversation Oliver and Barry had in last night's The Flash. There, Oliver told Barry that he doesn't blame him for changing the past and creating Flashpoint — if he could go back and change fate so that his parents lived, he would. And yet, Oliver gives up the chance of some sort of version of that in this episode in order to continue his heroic journey.

(This might be the first time in a long time I've loved an episode of Arrow and have also really loved Oliver Queen. Maybe we should have crossover events all the time...)


There's an episode of Friends titled "The One That Could Have Been." It's a non-canon episode that imagines what the characters would be like, had their lives turned out just a little bit differently. "Invasion!" feels a lot like this episode — it dreams up what Oliver and company (not the adorable and underrated musical about singing cats, as Cisco reminds  us) would look like if Oliver had never gotten on The Queen's Gambit. In this shared hallucination between Oliver, Sara, Ray, Diggle, and Thea, everyone's life looks a little bit different.

For starters, Oliver is marrying Laurel. Sara is a pleasant, quick-witted sibling who never hooked up with Oliver (and apparently came out to her family). Diggle is The Hood, with his trusty sidekick Felicity Smoak (who owns Smoak Technologies). Ray is a business partner of Robert Queen and in the running to take over Queen Consolidated as the CEO. And Thea is stable, happy, and has a great relationship with her parents.

Who wouldn't want to live in Arrow's version of Pleasantville, right?

The problem is that it's all a mirage, and the team slowly begins to figure that out. But for a while — before Oliver knows exactly what is happening — we get the chance to see what Oliver would have been like if he hadn't been shipwrecked and become a vigilante. He's in a great relationship with Laurel. He's put his playboy ways behind him. He's grown up. And he seems happy. But just beneath the surface, something inside of Oliver knows that this version of his story isn't right. Even when confronted with visions of Diggle and Felicity, Oliver still tries desperately to cling to the last bit of happiness he can find in this faux world. Because I think there's a part of Oliver that wishes things had been different for him — that he wouldn't have been forced to lose the people he loves. Don't we all wish that? Don't we all want to dwell for a moment longer than we should in the happy memories because facing reality is often less than perfect?

But just because Oliver's life in this alternate world seemed to be perfect didn't mean that it was right.

I think that's the most telling thing about this episode. Oliver has the opportunity to look back on what he's lost — the full spectrum of it — and really question whether or not he should take it back. Had he stayed, he wouldn't have had the reality of happiness, but he would have had the feeling of it. One of my favorite speakers of all time once said that "feelings are real, but they aren't truth." I think Oliver knew that, after the visions began to become clearer. I think he wanted to desperately grasp onto the feeling of utter happiness and bliss but he just couldn't hold on. Because while the feeling of happiness was there, it wasn't truth.

Oliver has been forced to make really difficult choices over the years. Some choices he's made wisely; others he has made foolishly. And he's had to pay the consequences for those choices — just like Barry has had to pay the consequences for his choice to create Flashpoint. And rather than dwell in the bad decisions, I like that "Invasion!" (in both The Flash and Arrow) established the fact that some things we control, and others we have to live with. We can't take responsibility for everything that has ever happened because of a minor decision we've made.

What Oliver can do, and what he does do in this episode, is remember that happiness is a journey, not a result of perfection. His heroic journey has been rough in parts, but I think that what Oliver realized is that happiness can be born out of darkness. Just because The Queen's Gambit did go down, his parents did die, and he's lost people he's cared about doesn't mean that he can never find happiness. In fact, sometimes it takes experiencing darkness to understand and appreciate the beauty of the light.


I feel like we keep saying goodbye to Laurel, but this week's episode was the chance for Oliver and Sara (and, to some extent, Thea) to say goodbye to her one last time. I've never been the biggest fan of Laurel, but I think she was super important in this episode because she is the physical representation of the "what could have been" that we always ask ourselves. If things had been different, maybe Oliver could have been the man that Laurel deserved. And throughout the episode, Oliver tries desperately to be that man. Even when he's half-sure that the whole thing is a hallucination, Oliver tells Laurel that he wants to be with her and elope with her. He's desperate to cling onto a reality in which he's completely happy that he goes to extremes in order to secure that happiness.

(Something telling of Oliver as a character, really.)

But at the end of the episode, when Oliver has to finally say goodbye to Laurel, he realizes that even if he would have never gotten onto the boat, he still wouldn't have ever been the man Laurel deserved. This is some pretty heavy self-actualization for a mass hallucination, but props to the writers for making it really believable. And I think it's important Oliver recognize that he could never be the person who Laurel deserved to be with. It felt like the writers' way of having Oliver apologize for the way he treated Laurel for years, while also realizing they were just never meant to be in the first place. Oliver vocalizes this, essentially saying that even in the perfect hallucination he is still the imperfect person for her. They were never meant to be. But he loved her. In his own way, Oliver did love her. You can't NOT love someone who has been a part of your life... well, practically your entire life. Oliver and Laurel had history, even if they never had a future.

So while it might have seemed cruel initially to me as I watched Oliver leave Laurel on the stairs in her wedding dress in the rain, I think honestly it's the best way to bid farewell to a relationship that was never meant to be, where both parties cared about one another but just knew they would never make it work. It took a lot for Oliver to walk away. It took a lot for Sara, too, I am sure to walk away from her beloved sister. All Sara wants is her sister back. And when she had the chance to keep that, Sara realized that a mirage is not the same as flesh and blood.

Once more, we said goodbye to Laurel in "Invasion!" But this time, I feel like it made more sense for each of our characters to do so. Laurel was a part of the fabric of Arrow just as much as anyone else, and I liked the way that the writers drew her story — and the stories of our characters with relationships to her — to a close.


When everyone realizes they're in a shared hallucination, the one person who wants to stay in it is Thea. I can't blame her, really, because Thea has lost so much. All she wants is to stop losing — losing herself, her happiness, and her family. In the alien-induced alternate universe, Thea is whole and happy. She has her friends and her entire family together. What more could she want? In her reality, Thea can't stop losing. Her dad died. She thought she lost Oliver. She watched Moira die right in front of her. She was tortured. She learned her father wasn't Robert, but Malcolm. She was brainwashed (multiple times). She was killed, then painfully resurrected. She's killed. She's watched Roy leave. She's watched Laurel die. She's seen enough of the world to know its pain, and she can't take it anymore.

Oliver tenderly points out to Thea that their parents in this pseudo-paradise aren't real. None of it is real. But Thea doesn't care. Because when you're so broken, you'll hold onto anything that feels like home. Even if it's a mirage. All Thea wants is to feel like herself again. Recently, she's started to — working on Oliver's mayoral campaign and, now, staff has made her feel some semblance of wholeness. Still, there is a part of her that desperately just wants to be back in her mother's arms or to smell her dad's jacket. 

If you're desperate enough, the feeling of it all can be overwhelmingly tempting. For a moment, Thea decides to stay in this place with a version of her parents and Laurel. But eventually — after a tearful goodbye to him — Thea decides to fight her demons one last time alongside her family: Team Arrow. 


Speaking of, everyone gets to battle their own personal demons before getting the chance to leave the pseudo-paradise. Everyone is there: Damien Darhk, ready to go hand-to-hand with Sara; Malcolm Merlyn who fights Thea; Slade's men who killed Anna duke it out with Ray; Diggle faces off against his brother (presumably, I think); and Oliver squares off against Deathstroke, the one villain who is much a part of Oliver's story as The Hood. 

As the team works together — my favorite part being Thea stabbing Malcolm and then shooting an arrow to Sara to help her defeat Damien — to fight their demons, they manage to fight their way toward an exit portal. As everyone crosses over, Oliver turns back and sees the faces of those he loves encouraging him onward.

It's an incredibly moving moment, played to perfection by Stephen Amell. And as I contemplated the meaning of such a scene — considering the fact that everyone appears very ghost-like when some of the characters in the scene aren't even dead in the real timeline — I realize now that it's meant to do just what I said above: spur Oliver forward in his heroic journey. Oliver is giving up a world in which happiness is a very tangible, very present feeling: a world in which everything seems to be right and happy. And he's returning to a world that is imperfect, where the journey is dark and the road is difficult; where he cannot see whether or not there is something like the happiness he's dreamt of ahead. But if you listen closely to what each of these characters are saying in their speeches, they're affirming Oliver.

My favorite Felicity Smoak speech is repeated here in the lines: "You are not done fighting." Roy tells of how Oliver changed his life. Laurel talks about how she knows who he is. Tommy tells him he's a hero. His mother speaks sweetly to him, and his father says goodbye. And as Oliver stands, in tears, we realize that these are the words he's most needed to hear for a long time — that he will be okay, if he just keeps fighting. That even though his world isn't perfect, there are people who love him and have fought for him and will continue to fight for him until the end of time.

They're not saying goodbye. They're not saying that everything will be okay.

They're saying that they believe in Oliver, and they believe in his journey. They spent their lives fighting for him and will continue to do so, until the very end.

Observations & favorite moments:
  • Every episode of Arrow needs more Cisco.
  • Without flashbacks, we were left with a side-plot of Felicity, Cisco, Barry, Kara, and the new recruits (sans Artemis because she's presumably off doing shady things now) figuring out how to get the team back. They manage to — ta-da! — get the Waverider to rescue our alien-bound heroes, and that's where Legends of Tomorrow will pick up/conclude tomorrow night! I'm really enjoying how the episodes are blending into one another, and the transitions between the shows and their episodes is really smooth.
  • "Good, 'cause I would hate to have to shoot you for breaking my girl's heart."
  • Did anyone else notice the Love Fern in the Diggle Arrow Cave?
  • Oliver remembering Felicity when he saw her was so bittersweet. Oh, those two idiots.
  • I think Kara needs to be on Arrow more because she's just a darn ray of sunshine.
  • Rene continued to be an unnecessary jerk this episode. This time? He's seemingly anti-superpowers until they save his life. Okay then.
  • "And I love you, mom." I missed Moira/Thea scenes more than I thought I did.
  • "You're lucky I'm not a trained assassin or anything" was one of those very heavy-handed, annoying lines in this episode to remind us that "HAHAHAHAHA OF COURSE SHE IS A TRAINED ASSASSIN, YOU GUYS. THAT'S THE JOKE." ... It wasn't funny.
  • Sara saved Oliver and Diggle from Deathstroke and I'm pretty sure my love for her grew tenfold, and for the writers for allowing their female heroes to save the male ones.
  • The mention of Tommy's absence (he's a doctor in Chicago, you guys) was so meta but I didn't mind one bit. It was perfect.
  • "And this is exactly twice as many spaceships as I ever thought I would be on." Thea has had some of the best lines in this crossover, I swear.
What did you all think of the Arrow part of the crossover event? How are you enjoying the crossover so far? Sound off in the comments below!


  1. The flow has been really good. The crossover didn't sit as well with Supergirl (maybe not surprising cause she's literally on a different Earth) but in Flash and Arrow it has been fun and moved the individual shows forward.

    What I have most enjoyed about the Arrow and Flash eps (and by extension, Legends) is their thematic connection: trying to fix the past. I have been a little sad to see how angry people have been at Barry since Flashpoint. I was happy to see Oliver be the one to show him compassion. I love seeing that part of Oliver's character. He understands mistakes, good intentions, and regret so of course he would be the one to extend compassion to Barry. Barry did something stupid, he didn't think and he acted out of pain. It's not like we haven't seen it before from our other Arrow-verse characters. For example, Laurel didn't listen to all the cautions about the Lazarus Pit when she brought Sara back. The repercussions were serious and without supernatural help from Constantine it could have gotten really bad.

    When we are in serious pain the overwhelming feeling is "Make this not be happening." Thea just broke my heart in this episode. Most of the horrible losses have not been as a result of her own choices. She has had to suffer greatly because of other people's choices. While her lack of agency in earlier series has been frustrating and I've been happy to see that change, Thea serves as a living reminder that the ones who suffer are often the victims of the choices of others. And she wanted to change the past. So would Roy and Sara and pretty much everyone in these shows. (I would take the Legends characters condemnation of Barry's actions a bit more seriously if they didn't change things ALL THE TIME. They have no consistency that I've seen in what can be changed and what can't.) How is that different from Barry? The only difference is that Barry is more powerful. He can make it happen because of his speed while these characters only get a simulation. But they are severely tempted and they have the opportunity to eventually change their minds. Barry can act so fast and so powerfully that he doesn't have the same opportunity to see and feel the consequences and reject them without having any major effect on real life. He is not God as Oliver reminds him but he is powerful and that is a terrible burden. I hope this all leads the rest of the abductees to cut him a little slack, or at least some understanding. I have high hopes that Barry's heavy burden will make him very wise and very compassionate.

    And boy does this episode give me hope for Oliver. Growth is not easy or straightforward (as much as story plots can make it seem so) and Oliver chooses reality with all its pain and I couldn't be more proud of him. He chooses the real fight over the easy lie. I really want to see this closure and epiphany have effects on Oliver's choices and behaviour in future episodes. (please, please, please, writers- make this a real moment in his character development, not something that is easily voided for future drama! It was so beautiful and hard won. Don't throw it away!)

    And the choice of each of our characters to leave their illusion will have major consequences for others. The world, real people, depend on them to fight these aliens and they choose not to abandon others by getting their own escape. That is heroic.

    1. When we are in serious pain the overwhelming feeling is "Make this not be happening." Thea just broke my heart in this episode. Most of the horrible losses have not been as a result of her own choices. She has had to suffer greatly because of other people's choices. While her lack of agency in earlier series has been frustrating and I've been happy to see that change, Thea serves as a living reminder that the ones who suffer are often the victims of the choices of others.


      And boy does this episode give me hope for Oliver.

      And I'm so glad it does. Where last year's crossover event showed us the worst/most selfish in Oliver, this year we get to see the depth of his humanity and the hope for the future. This is the kind of episode I needed after still struggling with his characterization this season. I'm gla dyou felt the same way!

      Ugh, thank you for your comment because it was beautiful and insightful (as always).

  2. Yes!!! The fern!! I was completely desolated with Oliver and LAurel´s weddind, that was suposed to be the perfect life for Oliver?? What?? So Olicity was BS?? and then, there was the fern! And everything got a little better.
    All in all it´s been a weird episode, although I like it on the whole.
    Cisco and Barry are the only ones who have been in the 4 episodes, and I can understan why, I can´t get enough of them!
    Didn´t miss the flashbacks either, I didn´t even think of them until I read you.