Arrow – Season 8 Episode 4

Nov 6, 2019 | Posted by in TV

“Present Tense”

Arrow merges the two timelines and forces the team to consider the legacy they’re building with their actions.

The cliffhanger in the previous episode had a great deal of potential attached to it and it’s great to see that no time is wasted in living up to that. Bringing the young characters back in time so they can interact with their parents as they were in 2019 is a great idea because it has been well established that they all have questions that remain unanswered. In the case of Mia she never knew Oliver because as far as she knows he died before she was old enough to remember, William hasn’t seen Oliver since he was 13 years old and it’s unknown why Diggle isn’t around for Connor to interact with. The main theme of this season is legacy and combining the two time periods is a great way for Oliver along with everyone else to question what sort of legacy their actions will create and whether it will be a positive one. It’s a really powerful question that this episode explore brilliantly


The attitude is familiar

Every actor brings their a-game here which helps to ground the temporal shenanigans in something that’s easy to understand. At its core this is a story about children meeting the parents they thought they’d lost and parents meeting the children they never knew they had. It’s more complicated than that because of the time travel but this is more or less what’s happening here except in the case of Oliver who knows he has children but never thought he’d be able to see either of them again.

Oliver and William have some excellent scenes together with Oliver taking every opportunity to learn how things turned out for William. This is yet another great showcase for Stephen Amell’s acting who adopts a “less is more” approach to these scenes. William telling him that he turned his tech ideas into a very successful business venture elicits a proud reaction from Oliver with Stephen Amell selling so much of it in his facial expression. Similarly his warm and reassuring expression when William comes out to him is brilliantly performed. Oliver’s reaction to that is really well done as well; he acknowledges that it was his responsibility to create an environment as a parent where William felt comfortable opening up to him. He also points out that he and Felicity always knew but didn’t want to make the choice to come out for him so he accepts that mistakes were made on his end and is able to apologise for that after all this time even if it is to his son’s future self. Another moment worthy of note is the look in Oliver’s eyes when he learns that his children didn’t grow up together.

Credit should also be given to Ben Lewis who bounces off Stephen Amell brilliantly. He reacts to the situation with maturity and curiosity which is very much in keeping with his character who has always been open to the unexpected and generally has a more fair minded approach to situations than Mia does. It’s great to see that William carried none of the animosity his teenage self felt towards his father into adulthood and how glad he is to have this opportunity to talk to him after it seeming impossible not so long ago. Every scene they share together is excellent and Ben Lewis more than holds his own against Stephen Amell to create a father/son dynamic that is compelling to watch.


A moment they never thought they’d have

Mia reacts to the situation very differently to her brother which fits nicely with her character. She has always resented Oliver for not being there for her throughout her life and this is baggage she brings with her in their interactions. William is grateful for this time with Oliver and fully embraces it while Mia pulls away from him because he sees her as a man she doesn’t know. It’s a valid position for her to hold because she never had a relationship with him and only has what others have told her to go on. Oliver does his best to get through to her but largely fails to do so because she isn’t willing to let him in. He sees a lot of himself in her and tries to help her find a healthier outlet for it but has to back off when she refused to listen to him. All the talk of understanding how she feels because he’s been there means that he also understands that if she doesn’t want to take his advice then she won’t. It’s telling that she would much rather spend time with Laurel than Oliver because at least that’s someone she knows even if it is a much younger version of her.

Mia and Laurel’s interactions are really engaging because of Laurel’s approach. She is able to call back on her own experience of being on a quest to find and kill someone to understand what it is Mia wants and she is not the one to stand in anyone’s way. Amusingly she also makes a point of making it clear that she would never tell anyone to listen to Oliver which provides a glimmer of the Evil Laurel that she has moved beyond without overtly returning to being that person. There are things about herself that she will never change and Oliver isn’t someone she holds in high regard so it makes sense that she wouldn’t encourage Mia to listen to her father. She does however tell Mia about when Felicity was bent on murdering someone and chose not to do it. It’s highlighted that her decision to not kill Diaz was never something she regretted and makes it clear that it’s not something that anyone can come back from as she knows from experience. As a mentor figure for Mia, Laurel is a good one because there isn’t the same level of baggage attached to who she is so she is more willing to listen.

When it comes down to it Mia chooses not kill because deep down she didn’t really want to and Oliver is able to find some common ground with her by considering his relationship with his own father. Oliver has been coming to terms with not knowing who his father really was until after he died and tells Mia that he doesn’t want that to be the case for them. They have an opportunity to get to know each other and reach an understanding that neither of them would have had otherwise so this is something Oliver wants to take advantage of. Mia asks him about loss and dealing with the constant guilt that comes as a result of the circumstances around that loss which allows Oliver to offer to help her deal with those feelings in a way that. That’s the olive branch that he can offer and it’s common ground that they can both work with to build some form of a relationship.


Bring your daughter to work day

The loss that is raw for Mia as well as the other time displaced characters is Zoe who was killed by the adult JJ in the previous episode. Mia naturally blames herself for not being able to prevent it as does Connor. It’s also a fact that hangs above the heads of both teams as the younger team initially keep that information from them and only vaguely allude to the existence of Zoe in their future. It doesn’t take long for the truth to become known and for it to create a rift between Rene and Diggle. Even though it hasn’t happened yet Rene irrationally holds Diggle responsible for what happened and takes it out on him even though it’s nothing to do with him at this point in his timeline. It’s a really complex situation but it makes a lot of sense for Rene to jump to that conclusion in his confused and angered state.

Rene ends up having problems of his own when he learns that his campaign to become Mayor of the Glades is successful but also means that he becomes as corrupt as any other politician that can be named. This throws him through a loop as he never thought himself capable of becoming something that he detests so much. He comes to realise that every one of them share in the responsibility for what happens to the city in the future which means that Zoe’s death is on him to some degree as well.

Instead of resigning himself to the inevitability of the future Rene decides to take the opportunity to create something better. He doesn’t know how to do it or even if it’s possible but Dinah puts it best when she tells him that they do what they can every day to make the best possible future. Ultimately all they can do is do their best and hope for the best though there’s no telling if those actions bring about that future or not. The fact that they know how a version of themselves turns out means that they can take steps to prevent that future from coming to pass.


Holt and Smoak 2.0

Diggle has a lot thrown to him in this episode when he learns that he will one day adopt Ben Turner’s son and that his biological son is seduced by a criminal gang which eventually leads him to kill Zoe. He basically learns that he’s destined to fail as a parent which he finds difficult to accept. Connor and JJ’s broken relationship serves as a sobering reminder of his relationship with Andy that took a similar turn so there’s a definite element of history repeating itself within the Diggle family. After taking some time to process what he has learned he is able to connect with Connor and see what there is to be proud of in terms of how he turned out JJ is a problem to be solved which motivates him to join Rene and Dinah’s pledge about wasting no time in creating a better future. There are some great moments between Diggle and Connor such as Diggle taking the time to help train him and get to know him in his own way. He eventually sees a young man who needs him and does the right thing. It’ll be interesting to see how he approaches raising JJ from this point on. Curiously there’s no mention of what happens to Diggle in the future which seems like a bizarre omission but that’s likely a question that will be answered before the season ends.

I suspect that this episode is setting up the proposed spinoff featuring Mia, Dinah and Laurel which means that at least Mia will stay in the present day to join the Canary network that starts to become a reality in this episode. The beginnings of that is shown through Dinah and Laurel sharing some fast food where Laurel teaches Dinah about dipping fries in milkshake just as her Earth-1 counterpart showed Nyssa. It’s a subtle bonding moment that resonates wonderfully and if this does lead to a spinoff featuring these characters then I’m all for it.

The return of Curtis is welcomed even if he doesn’t actually do an awful lot. It was worth it on its own to see him work with William as tech support for both generations of Team Arrow. There are parallels to be drawn as they are both openly gay geniuses with a strong desire to help others so there’s definitely a kinship there that runs underneath their interactions. It’s not something the episode needs to make a big deal of but it’s there and enhances what they do together.


The beginnings of something

This episode falls down in a couple of areas, most notably the villain. The arrival of the time displaced characters happens to coincide with an attack consistent with the Deathstroke gang which leads them to believe that JJ was also brought back in time with them. They see this as their problem and try to solve it without telling the present day team which naturally doesn’t go according to plan. It turns out that the leader of this newly minted Deathstroke gang is Slade’s son, Grant (Jamie Andrew Cutler) -who was seen in the DC’s Legends of Tomorrow episode “Star City 2046” way back in season 1 of that show- and that this could be the beginnings of the organisation that would eventually seduce JJ who takes over it by their time. Stopping them in their infancy and bringing Grant to justice would seem like a really good way to prevent at least part of that future from happening since there would be no Deathstroke gang to seduce JJ at a vulnerable point.

It all seems good in theory but Grant is far from an engaging villain. He appears in a handful of scenes and commands absolutely no menace in any of them. He is also brought down far too easily to buy him as a credible enough threat so it’s difficult to believe he would be capable of founding such a dangerous and far reaching gang. Stopping him does bring optimism to the characters as they feel that they have made important strides towards preventing a horrible future but the ease of bringing him down makes me think that this is false hope and a red herring towards something worse that is as yet unanticipated.

Another issue is a fairly minor one but is worth nothing anyway. Oliver rightly wants to make contact with Felicity early on to tell her that their adult children have come back in time but William stops her because he wants to limit contamination to the timeline. Amusingly he has more of a grasp on the risks after a single temporal displacement than Barry does after 5 years of experience. It’s necessary to keep Felicity out of the picture because Emily Bett Rickards is no longer on the show until her recently confirmed appearance at the end of the season but it’s a flimsy excuse to keep her out of the picture as it’s definitely something she would want to know about. It’s also odd that nobody mentions contacting Team Flash or the Legends who have extensive experience with time travel and the implications of it. Barry and Iris even know what it’s like to meet a child from the future so addressing that would have been welcomed.

The ending where the Monitor approaches Laurel offering to bring her universe back in exchange for her completing a task that involves her betraying Oliver in some way is intriguing. It makes for another seemingly random act by The Monitor who has a plan that makes no real sense at the moment which is best put to the side until we learn what his overall plan actually is but it also proves fascinating for Laurel as a character. She has developed a great deal since her introduction to the point that I don’t need to put “Evil” in front of her name any more but she still has a long way to go and is the only member of the cast who can be put in a situation like this with any ambiguity over what she will choose to do. This episode makes a point of noting that she doesn’t see eye to eye with Oliver so there’s a genuine question mark over whether she will take The Monitor up on his offer and accept what he promises at face value. This is something the writers can definitely play with without compromising the work they’ve done with this character because her state of grief is very well developed at this point. I just hope The Monitor’s actions come together into something coherent.


Quality family time


An excellent episode with strong emotionally driven interactions and a compelling exploration of the ongoing legacy theme that defines this season. Combining the present and future casts has a lot of potential that this episode makes great use of. In particular with William and Oliver scenes are really well done with a lot of understated acting from Stephen Amell where the necessary information is conveyed with little more than a choice facial expression. Ben Lewis more than holds his own in these interactions and a really engaging father/son dynamic is created founded on making the most of an opportunity neither of them thought they would ever get. Mia is a different story as she brings the resentment she feels towards Oliver into their interactions. Oliver also sees a lot of himself in her which prevents him from getting through to her in the way that he wants to. Ultimately she confides more in Laurel and is able to relate to her more easily which does lead her to making the right decision regarding her desire to kill and opens her up to finding some common ground with Oliver eventually. Oliver has a desire to not repeat what happened with his own father so there are the beginnings of something within this.

Rene, Dinah and Diggle all face difficulties attached to the arrival of the displaced team. When Rene learns that JJ kills Zoe in the future it creates a temporary rift between them as neither of them are unsure how to react to this information or understand where the blame rests. Eventually he learns that he becomes a corrupt politician and shares in the responsibility for the world that his daughter will grow up in. Each of them resolve to do everything they can to prevent this future from existing even though they have no idea how to actually do that. The important thing is that they’re on task and have the best of intentions which may be enough for now. Diggle facing up to his failure as a parent makes for some interesting material and his dynamic with Connor is really compelling especially when he comes to fully embrace the son that he will one day have and trains him. There is no mention of what becomes of Diggle in the future which is a curious but probably necessary omission. The episode falls down in the villain. Grant Wilson has no sense of menace at any point and doesn’t come across as the sort of person who could create the Deathstroke gang we have seen in the future. This may be a red herring but he doesn’t pull his weight for the purposes of this episode. The excuse given to keep Felicity out of the loop for now is also really weak. Laurel’s offer from The Monitor to betray Oliver in exchange for bringing her universe back is compelling because it’s not entirely clear how Laurel will react to this information. She has developed a great deal but her grief combined with the reminder that she doesn’t see eye to eye with Oliver is something the writers can definitely play with.

  • 9/10
    Present Tense - 9/10


Kneel Before…

  • the excellent William/Oliver dynamic
  • Stephen Amell’s wonderfully understated performance
  • Ben Lewis holding his own in his scenes with Stephen Amell
  • Oliver seeing a lot of himself in Mia and his desire to get through to her
  • Mia being resistant to Oliver but eventually finding common ground
  • Rene, Diggle and Dinah resolving to work to create a better world than the one they fail in
  • Diggle’s reaction to finding out what happens to JJ
  • Rene’s temporary anger with Diggle over what will happen in the future
  • the ambiguity around how Laurel will respond to The Monitor’s offer


Rise Against…

  • Grant Wilson failing to measure up as a villain
  • the excuse for leaving Felicity out of the loop not working


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User Review
5.5/10 (1 vote)

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