Arrow – Season 8 Episode 9
“Green Arrow and the Canaries”
Arrow spends its first post crossover episode laying the groundwork for an upcoming spin-off focused on Mia, Laurel and Dinah picking up Oliver’s crusade to keep the city safe.
Backdoor pilots are a strange beast in television. It’s an episode of a show designed to set up a different one. In essence the parent show takes a week off to give viewers a flavour of something else they might want to watch at a later date. Some backdoor pilots are more successful than others so the question for the purposes of analysis is whether this one works or not.
For the most part this backdoor pilot works, at least for me though I’m already invested in these character which means that I’m interested in seeing them continue. Whether it will be accessible for new viewers or not is completely up for debate but I only have the perspective of knowing Arrow well so it’s hard for me to think along those lines. It doesn’t mean I won’t try though.
The premise is very similar to Arrow with a new team that takes advantage of the legacy that show built. Mia Queen is the central character with Laurel and Dinah offering their support and experience. Other flashforward characters like JJ, Zoe and William are also part of the cast. The major difference is that Mia is more inexperienced than Oliver and has a less defined grasp on what her mission is. This episode is essentially Mia’s origin story and tells the story of what motivates her to take on the Green Arrow mantle.
At the beginning of the episode, Mia is very different to how she was in her last appearance. The post “Crisis on Infinite Earths” world has her as a well adjusted socialite who has just graduated from college and is starting to think about what the rest of her life looks like. She’s in a committed relationship with JJ who proposes to her early on. Katherine McNamara plays this different version of Mia very well with vastly different mannerisms and a a generally altered way of conducting herself. She’s much more comfortable in a crowd, knows how to deal with the press and generally has a good grasp on the life she has chosen to lead.
Everything changes when Laurel forces the memories of her pre-Crisis life on her and the experiences of a much darker world rapidly appear in her mind. The imagery is striking and includes Zoe’s death at the hands of JJ as well as Oliver’s first Crisis death that she was present for. It’s a lot to take in and Mia spends a lot of the episode struggling to come to terms with her other life. What comes out the other end is a composite of the two versions so the well adjusted socialite offers balance to the angry and violent young woman with severe abandonment issues. Combining the two versions of Mia provides plenty of fodder for introspection as she likely has instincts that are warring with one another. There’s an example of that in this episode where she opts to use her connection to JJ to get into his office rather than fighting her way in as the old Mia would have done. Laurel tells her to trust her gut but in effect she has two guts so she will constantly be figuring out which instinct to listen to which makes for a fascinating internal conflict. Her arc is around figuring out how to successfully combine the two versions of herself into something that works on a practical level and she’s very much at the beginning of that journey.
I find myself really fascinated by the conflicting memories within her. Socialite Mia is in love with JJ where Old Mia hates him for murdering her friend, Socialite Mia has a healthy friendship with Zoe where Old Mia remembered mourning her passing, Socialite Mia never knew her father on a personal level where Old Mia knew him very well in his final days and Socialite Mia has a strong healthy relationship with William after they -presumably- grew up together where Old Mia was estranged from him until relatively recently. The two versions aren’t quite opposites but they are close enough and it’ll be interesting to see how she resolves the significant differences between them. We start to get a sense of how she will approach that in this episode but there are a lot more challenges to come her way assuming the series is picked up.
Her relationship with JJ is interesting so far. There isn’t much time to establish the blissfully happy connection they share before Mia’s memories are restored but Katherine McNamara and Charlie Barnett do a capable job playing that comfortable closeness they share in the scene where he proposes to her. It’s good enough to successfully sell the betrayal felt by JJ later in the episode when she accuses him of kidnapping her friend. JJ was a largely one dimensional villain in his prior appearances and now he’s a largely one dimensional love interest which isn’t exactly an improvement but his purpose in this episode is to highlight how different Mia’s life in this altered world which works well enough for now though I could have done without their angsty break-up brought on by JJ noticing the change in Mia once the memories of her old life are restored. Hopefully the writers will find a better way to play with this relationship should the series be picked up.
Despite how perfect her life seems to be early on, Mia is uncertain about her future. She is shown turning down a job offer from William and is vague about what her plans are. Beginning her journey at the end of college is a great idea because it’s a transitional phase in a young person’s life so it connects nicely with her decision to take on the vigilante lifestyle as she is a confused young woman desperately seeking a purpose while being reluctant to commit to anything. Green Arrow and the Canaries as a show looks to be about Mia transitioning into adulthood with the Green Arrow persona representing the trials and expectations that come with that. It’s a common thread in a lot of superhero stories and the grounding here is very strong.
Part of the reason Mia is reluctant to commit to her future is because Oliver casts a really long shadow. He is remembered as a hero who saved the city and met his end in a noble sacrifice. She is asked by the press what her father would think of her life choices and she’s able to give a well rehearsed answer that she doesn’t actually believe. Being the daughter of Oliver Queen puts a lot of pressure on her because people naturally compare her accomplishment to those of her father which isn’t an easy thing to live with. Katherine McNamara’s expression of thinly concealed resentment as she answers that question is very telling as it suggests that it’s a question she asks herself every day in life.
This is one positive thing about regaining the memories of her old life. Having the memories of getting to know her father and understanding that he was a very flawed and fallible Human being helps her contextualise her own feelings of inadequacy as she suddenly becomes aware that Oliver didn’t have all of the answers either which helps her to understand that the way she feels is completely natural. It’s important for her to understand how proud of her Oliver would be and equally important for her to realise that he would want her to make choices in her life that she was comfortable with rather than trying to live up to the example of the selfless hero that the public has cultivated. Oliver isn’t there to tell her this himself but that’s where Oliver and Dinah come in.
Mia goes on an emotional journey that leads to her accepting the Green Arrow identity. Laurel tries to push her into doing so before she’s ready and she rejects it because she doesn’t feel worthy of the mantle. The fact that her father died the one time she wore that costume contributes to that reluctance. She gets the opportunity to voice her insecurities to Laurel who gives her an honest account of what being a hero means to her. This includes her perspective on making choices and how challenging it can be to make more difficult ones. Laurel’s a great authority on that given her villainous past as a result of taking the easy route in all cases. Mia can relate to that to some degree as she routinely decided to do nothing which was very much the easy route as far as she was concerned. Laurel and Mia chose to live their lives the way they did out of fear and now Mia has the chance to make the more difficult choice to commit to doing something meaningful with her life. It’s a great scene that shows the weight of what Mia is going through made worse by her recent influx of new memories.
Unsurprisingly she decides to follow in Oliver’s footsteps and claim the mantle of Green Arrow. The city is getting to the point of needing a hero to look up to again after a long period of being crime free so Green Arrow is an appropriate symbol of hope in a city of people that are about to understand what it means to be afraid of dangerous criminals again. Amusingly Laurel mocks the idea that Star City is crime free because she has a more cynical view of Human nature and it seems that she’s right with a criminal element clearly starting to rise up.
The Deathstroke mask once again proves to be a significant symbol within Star City. Trevor (Chad Duell) is the man behind the mask and fails to make a significant impression. His performance is distractingly over the top and his monologuing doesn’t mesh with the tone of the rest of the episode. It’s a clumsy way to drop a cryptic hint about the leader of this criminal uprising. He talks about something coming and refers to his boss as “she” which isn’t a lot to go on but indicates that there is a larger plan at play that will likely be the focus of the first season should it exist. JJ having his memory restored by a hooded figure tells us that the mastermind is someone who is at least aware of the pre-Crisis world and has an interest in bringing some of it back. The prospect of JJ having memories of both lives is intriguing as it creates the potential for duality within the character where his well adjusted side is in opposition to the crazed murderer that he was in the darker timeline. How this will impact Mia and inform their dynamic is something I really want to see.
Laurel and Dinah make up Mia’s immediate supporting cast and their dynamic is as fun as it ever was. With the central character being Mia they represent different aspects of her personality while also being an example of old school heroism that she can use to define her own style. Laurel effectively embodies the previous version of Mia as the more stubborn, abrasive and headstrong character where Dinah embodies the Socialite Mia with a more measured approach to life. As I’ve said those two sides to Mia are at war and it’s up to her to find a way to work with them so that she can reach her full potential. Laurel and Dinah externalise that conflict while also offering her important advice for her to consider.
There are some issues with the approach Laurel takes to bringing Mia into the fight. She makes an assumption that having her pre-Crisis memories is the better option for her and restores them without her consent. This basically forces her into accepting a life that she might not want and adds extra emotional trauma for her to deal with. There’s something really concerning about this and the episode fails to address it in any meaningful way. It makes sense for Laurel as a character as she has always been someone who doesn’t consider the true implications of what she’s doing but the fact that nobody else seems to have a significant problem with this is very strange. I’m not sure how the episode could have been set up to allow Mia to accept the additional memories but having Laurel forcing that on her starts that relationship on a really concerning note.
Some attempt is made to address the fact that neither Laurel or Dinah look 20 years older. Dinah mentions waking up in 2040 with no idea how she got there and no existing record of her in the world. The suggestion is that she was transported from the past which explains why she isn’t any older. Perhaps the “how” and “why” will be answered in the final episode of Arrow or maybe this will be an enduring mystery tied to the criminal uprising in the city. Laurel looks no older but time travel hasn’t been mentioned for her so it’s unclear if she’s hiding that or if she is supposed to be 20 years older. Either way, Mia having them as support in her version of the Green Arrow mission is a good choice and their dynamic as a team is already a lot of fun to watch. Mia holds her own by not letting them tell her what to do and each of them have a personality that challenges the other two.
One thing that needs a lot of work is defining the setting. The episode -and hopefully later the show- takes place in 2040 but there’s little about it that seems futuristic. Clothing style looks about the same as it does now and nothing about the technology looks any more advanced than we routinely see in the other present day set Arrowverse shows. Defining a strong aesthetic in a backdoor pilot is probably far from easy but the episode still failed to deliver a strong sense of how different Star City is 20 years from now. There’s a real opportunity to have fun imaging the future of the Arrowverse here and I hope they take it.
Other than the criminal uprising and the villain that has knowledge of the pre-Crisis world there are some other mysteries to be answered throughout the season should the show come into being. Felicity is mentioned in the past tense which suggests that Mia and William believe her to be dead. It’s possible the past tense is more in reference to Oliver though it’s unclear at this point. The final episode of Arrow will feature Felicity so that question may be answered there though it is up to the new show to let its characters define their relationship to parental figures rather than relying on viewers having seen other shows. William’s kidnapping is the beginning of another mystery that may linger for a while. There has been no mention that I can find of William being part of the main cast of this show so I suspect one of Mia’s primary motivations early on will be finding him. Whether he becomes the Felicity of the group is unknown at this time though I think it’ll be a significant misstep if he doesn’t. What little was seen of their dynamic in this episode with them being close as siblings and Mia’s more well adjusted nature than before was really engaging so it could end up being the heart of the show if done right. They both represent Oliver’s legacy and I think it’s important to maintain that by keeping them together.
A strong suggestion of what an Arrow spin-off could be with excellent performances, engaging character dynamics and a firm grasp on the importance of its legacy. Introducing a well adjusted yet aimless version of Mia before restoring her memories to create a defined internal conflict for her was a really nice touch as it allows the previous version that was introduced to compliment the new one in order to create a more rounded and compelling character. Setting up an arc where she has to resolve her warring halves into something practical is a great idea and Katherine McNamara takes to the material brilliantly. Even though it’s only shown briefly her blissfully happy dynamic with JJ works really well to set up something that will be forever changed by the restoration of her old memories and seeing his memories restored has great potential for duality for that character. Mia’s conversation with Laurel where she talks about her tendency to take the easy route which led to her villainous nature is great as it links to Mia failing to do anything with her life because she’s struggling with the weight of Oliver’s legacy. It outlines the choice Mia needs to make and puts her on the path towards accepting the Green Arrow mantle.
Laurel and Dinah make for great supporting characters for Mia. They each represent the two warring sides of her personality which externalises her internal conflict while giving her much needed advice. The Laurel/Dinah dynamic remains as fun as ever and the three of them together are really engaging as each of them bring something that challenges the other two. Mia also holds her own and doesn’t let anyone tell her what to do so there’s a lot to work with here. Her dynamic with William is also very engaging so I’m hoping that he is a fixture of the show should it make it to series. I do have my concerns about Mia having her memories forced on her by Laurel. The lack of consent is worrying and the failure to address that within the episode itself is glaring. The episode’s villain is also less than interesting and a lot of work needs to be done to define the aesthetic of the setting as being futuristic. At the moment it doesn’t look like the future at all in terms of fashion, technology or general design.
- two distinct versions of Mia combining to create the potential for a more rounded character
- Mia struggling to resolve the two warring sides of her personality
- Mia’s view of Oliver and the shadow his legacy casts
- her conversation with Laurel about taking the easy route and how he struggles to live up to what Oliver represents
- the Laurel/Dinah dynamic being as fun as ever
- Laurel and Dinah being the external manifestation of Mia’s internal conflict
- the dynamic between the three characters
- Mia and William’s relationship
- setting up the rise of a criminal element after the city has been at peace for so long
- a weak villain
- not addressing Laurel restoring Mia’s memories without her consent
- very little visual sense that the episode takes place in the future.
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