With television gradually moving away from the traditional broadcast model, and with many series telling complete, serialized stories in short, roughly 10-episode seasons, reaching the esteemed century mark isn't often in the cards for shows airing on cable or via streaming services. So when a series like Arrow delivers its 100th episode, you expect it to come with a little bit of pomp and circumstance. As such, the folks at The CW managed to schedule their flagship DC TV series' big night at a time when all eyes are on the Arrowverse, thanks in large part to the 'Invasion!' crossover event that's currently unfolding.
At first, it seems an odd time for a show to mark such a significant occasion by delivering an hour that's ultimately beholden to a larger storyline, and one that more or less exists outside of the parameters of the season's ongoing narrative. But considering the episode's "the gang's all here" format of taking Oliver through an alternate reality wherein he wakes to a life where his parents and other loved ones – like Laurel Lance – are still alive, knowing that the episode is part of another storyline grants the hour a lot of leeway in terms of justifying the plot device that's bringing all of these characters back.
The move is justified further as the hour handles the emotional stakes delivered through such unusual circumstances. That is to say, in a season that has so far largely managed to bring back an Arrow of old, seeing Oliver and the rest of Team Arrow taking on an alien threat with the rest of their Arrowverse comrades – especially Barry Allen and Ray Palmer – might feel like something of a risky move. And to a certain extent, even having Green Arrow fighting aliens is a little like the show reneging on a promise to deliver a street-level crime storyline this time around. But exceptions have to be made, and after The Flash brought an entertaining hour that demonstrated how mega-crossover events like 'Invasion!' can not only work but succeed, the desire to see the series continue its creative upswing by delivering a chapter that's meaningful to the overarching Dominators story and to Arrow itself makes this departure (a stratospheric departure, really) from the more grounded, Star City-centric narrative of season 5 not just admissible but appreciated.
The fact that the team has just been abducted by aliens and have been set into a virtual reality is almost too perfect a scenario for a television show celebrating such a huge milestone not to do a clip show. To credit of the writers, though, while Arrow's installment of 'Invasion!' really is little more than the show patting itself on the back for knocking out 100 episodes, those pats are concealed under a few fun, fluffy layers of superhero team-ups and the presence of the aforementioned aliens. The hour even cuts costs demonstrably by setting the majority of the episode inside familiar Arrow stomping grounds, rather than developing the story around Oliver, Digg, Thea, Sara, and Ray doing battle with the Dominators directly.
Instead, much of the action is actually relegated to the super-powered members of the crossover, with Flash and Supergirl taking center stage in a brawl with a technologically enhanced foe that doubles as a crash course for Rene, teaching him that meta-humans (and aliens) can be okay people. The message comes through loud and clear, and after being surly and menacing, Rene warms up to his new colleagues. It's such a saccharine moment you can almost see an animated shooting star appear with the words "The More You Know." And while these moments often do feel forced, any effort on the part of the writers to demonstrate just how far removed some of these characters are from the world of The Flash and Supergirl is compelling despite having no time to be developed.
But really, the crux of the hour is the Matrix-esque alternate reality Oliver and everyone else is trapped in, and the guest stars the show managed to line up as a way of calling back to Arrow's early days. Although he was never physically a very big part of the show, his presence has always been huge, and as such having Jamey Sheridan return as Robert Queen packs a surprising emotional punch. The relationship between Oliver and his father was one of the show's early home runs and seeing the two together again assuaged concerns over just how gimmicky the whole thing was.
Even though the hour basically boils down to a series of happier, fan service "what if?" scenarios, many of those scenarios did at least feel emotionally connected to the overarching Arrow narrative, and they did a fine job of demonstrating the role everyone has played in Oliver's story so far, and, perhaps more importantly, how his role as the Green Arrow has had an irreversible impact on their lives. Obviously, in the case of Robert, Moira, and Laurel that impact ended their lives and shaped Oliver's going forward, so seeing the three of them return helps excuse the show of simply taking advantage of its 100th episode with some emotional trickery with the audience.
As is so often the case with Arrow episodes that have to cater to more than one storyline, 'Invasion!' felt hurried. And the haste with which the hour had to cycle through its virtual landscape and make time for a Flash-Supergirl team-up meant sacrificing time that could have been better spent with Robert or Moria – or, you know, not with archival footage of Tommy and Roy. The same goes for the distinct lack of Manu Bennett. It would be hard to think the Deathstroke character would have left such a mark on the show without the presence of Bennett, so it was disappointing he couldn't make an appearance.
Still, the hour was largely entertaining and co-showrunner Marc Guggenheim has said that episode 101 also aims to acknowledge the series' milestone, but without the heavy lifting of a four-series crossover event involved, so perhaps what felt to be missing here will be found next week.
Arrow continues next Wednesday with 'What We Leave Behind' @8pm on The CW.