When the seventh season of Arrow concluded this past May, I admit my initial reaction was a bit confused. How would this series, which began so grounded that even characters like Solomon Grundy had a realistic explanation, deal with such a sci-fi ending? Sure, it was hinted at in last year’s Elseworlds crossover, but Oliver going off with the Monitor was not the ending that I had anticipated when I heard that Emily Bett Rickards was leaving the show.
(What did I expect? I thought Felicity would go missing, and Season 8 would be about Oliver’s quest to find her.)
Once news started to trickle in about Season 8, being a shorter season that leads toward the Crisis, I step back and realize how brilliant the notion is. And that’s pretty much what the Arrow Season 8 premiere “Starling City” is — brilliant.
In tying in to the Crisis, complete with the presence of LaMonica Garrett’s Monitor character, Arrow’s writers — including Beth Schwartz & Marc Guggenheim for this opening installment — found a great way to travel through what they call the series’ “greatest hits” while still doing new things with the characters. “Starling City,” named for the original name of Star City from the earlier seasons of the city, is a masterful tribute to times past, with several favorites from the early days present…. though in what capacity, it might be better left unsaid.
As teased by the producers, “Starling City” is also a big tribute to many aspects of Season 1 — the island, the mansion, Moira, Malcolm Merlyn, John Diggle as Oliver’s driver/bodyguard, Tommy and Laurel, and, yes, there is a nod to a popular moment from “Lone Gunmen” so fans of Felicity should not need to worry that her character is forgotten. Some echoes from Arrow’s later history also factor in, like Josh Segarra’s Adrian Chase. There is some really witty dialogue between characters that is so natural, almost as if these actors and characters have a short hand with one another…. and some of this dialogue comes from people you wouldn’t expect to be saying it. We also finally get some long-awaited Green Arrow and Black Canary team-up action, right out of the comics, and Laurel has a much-improved costume…. and we find out what role characters like Rene and Dinah might play in an episode like this when it seems they are not yet a part of this mission. And the episode, directed by James Bamford, features some fights that are extremely reminiscent of Arrow’s early days.
There’s a lot of seriousness and urgency to this story, but as mentioned, the show doesn’t hesitate to have some lighter moments, some of which are callbacks to years past. You’ll know what I mean when I see it. Of course, when we review these episodes early the CW gives us a list of “do-not-reveals,” so some things that caught some attention cannot yet be talked about. I will say there were certain moments and payoffs that left even me surprised.
There is only one thing that fell short with this premiere. I understand why it is a thing, but I didn’t care for it: The flash-forwards in the episode, which feature three of the show’s new series regulars, kept pulling away from the “Starling City” familiarity that I was hoping for more of, and I say that as someone who liked the flash-forwards in Season 7. It kind of reminded me of the most grating flashbacks of seasons’ past — Season 4, maybe — in that I just wanted to get right back to the present-day — or wherever Oliver happens to be — action, and wish they had saved the reintroduction of the kids and the introduction of JJ for episode 802. Really, I think I just wanted to spend more time with Moira, Malcolm and Tommy, even though I love the characters and cast of the future scenes.
In eight seasons, Arrow has never had a bad season premiere. If anything, tonight’s season opener continues that tradition. If you’re a lapsed viewer, you can follow it; if you’re eagerly anticipating Crisis on Infinite Earths, you should definitely watch. I have no doubt in my mind that Season 8 is going to be a fantastic one.
SEASON PREMIERE – While trying to decipher The Monitor’s (guest star LaMonica Garrett) mission, Oliver (Stephen Amell) returns to Starling City where he encounters familiar faces. Meanwhile, Mia (Katherine McNamara) and William’s (Ben Lewis) team clash with a new foe. James Bamford directed the episode written by Beth Schwartz & Marc Guggenheim (#801). Original airdate 10/15/2019.