[This is a review of Arrow season 4, episode 8. There will be SPOILERS.]
Throughout the second half of this year's Arrow crossover with The Flash, both heroes acknowledge how quickly their world is changing and how it often feels as though the more they know, the less they understand. Despite being superheroes, there's a sense of detachment on the part of Oliver Queen and Barry Allen in that they have abilities uncommon to the average person, and yet they often times feel powerless in the situations they increasingly find themselves in. As far as through lines go, that's not necessarily a bad one, especially for an episode of Arrow that itself feels somewhat detached – at least from the things that make Arrow unique in the first place.
'Legends of Yesterday' is an entertaining hour of television, but it's hard to tell whether or not it counts as an entertaining hour of Arrow. Last year, the crossover with The Flash carried with it the show's distinct flavor, in that Barry was given a taste of just how different things were in then-Starling City, than his native Central City. The dichotomy of the two shows and their tonal differences was a large part of the appeal of that crossover, and that's an element that isn't necessarily present this time around. The feeling that Arrow is buried under two other shows is certainly a byproduct of the crossover's goal. After all, these two hours are really just laying the groundwork for Legends of Tomorrow. And yet through it all, there's a sense that the hour isn't quite as successful in letting Arrow's distinct voice shine through, as, say, The Flash was in its offering.
That makes for something of a cluttered hour, as the episode has to balance a series of "sky rock"-filled Hawkman and Hawkgirl flashbacks, Cisco's heartbreak as Kendra re-discovers her true self, the threat of Vandal Savage, and Oliver finding out he has a roughly ten-year-old son named William. With all that going on, 'Legends of Yesterday' is attempting to be a lot of things, but being an episode of Arrow is maybe the last thing on its to-do list.
In a sense, that's fine; this is a crossover setting up an enormous series that has yet to air, so diluting the Arrow-ness of the hour is perhaps inevitable. And so, moving forward, maybe what makes 'Legends of Yesterday' tick isn't necessarily that it feels so little like an episode of Arrow, but rather that it feels so much like an episode of The Flash. In other words, if last year's crossover was each hero's introduction into the just how different their world's were, despite being a mere high-speed train ride away, this year's crossover – minus the Legends set-up stuff – is a crash course for what it's like be an outsider in one of Barry's storylines.
The fact that Oliver and the entirety of Team Arrow (as well as Central City, presumably) are reduced to ash and then the whole event is unwritten via the specific rules of The Flash universe is perhaps the most telling aspect of this. Oliver typically doesn't get second chances like this – arguably because he's not facing over-the-top villains like Vandal Savage on a regular basis (though when it comes to scenery chewing, Savage might find himself a serious competitor with Neal McDonough's Damien Darhk). The idea that the audience can watch characters disintegrate and then have it undone because a guy in a red suit can run really fast is actually in keeping with the idea that's central to the episode: it maintains the sense of being off balance, as far as Arrow is concerned.
But that doesn't necessarily work in every aspect of the hour. Part of how Arrow attempts to demonstrate the differences between itself and its sister show is by grounding half the plot in the very soapy drama of Oliver seeing Samantha and discovering his long-lost son. It's immediately questionable why this would take up half an episode that is primarily concerned with women sprouting wings, time travel, and meteorite-coated gauntlets, but it's also questionable whether or not it would have even worked in an hour that was less busy.
For one thing, the show has a lot of heavy lifting to do in order to make Samantha a character the audience can connect with. She was only seen briefly in a flashback with Moira. This already distances her from Oliver's storyline, and her cause isn't helped any when it becomes immediately clear Samantha is less a character that matters in this instance and more a plot device destined to create conflict between Oliver and Felicity. This is brought out by Samantha's condition that if Oliver is going to be a part of William's life, he can't tell anyone about it, not even the woman he loves, even though she has a really nice name.
The fallout of this results in Felicity's breakup with Oliver in the first timeline. In a sense, this is Arrow laying the foundation for what's at stake with the whole Samantha and William plot, as it hints to Oliver reverting back to the secretive and dishonest person he had been in the past, and it also sets in motion future strife between him and Felicity. Like everyone's deaths, it is all unwritten by Barry's time travel abilities. But while the second timeline prevents the dissolution of Olicity, Oliver still makes a drastic and somewhat illogical decision that's based on a seemingly irrational demand. This is troubling primarily because it feels like a retread of season 3's most disappointing elements. Besides, as the series has proven recently, keeping secrets is nowhere near as interesting as dealing head-on with the truth behind them.
Because 'Legends of Yesterday' is so concerned with setting things up in terms of future storylines and, you know, spinoffs, the episode never completely settls into its own unique rhythm, or has a chance to define itself as any one thing. The result, then, is a medley of various superhero elements that flirts with the idea of Oliver exploring his status as the odd man out, but doesn't quite manage to say what it wants to. Despite that, the hour does deliver in terms of creating a grand spectacle that is fun to watch. Savage is reduced to a pile of dust by the episode's end, and, in the grand tradition of Arrow and The Flash, Hawkman and Hawkgirl skip town as soon their job is done. The fact that they will all be back isn't much of a surprise, but seeing Malcolm scoop up a couple handfuls of Savage dust while saying, "You owe me one, buddy," might count as one, though.
At any rate, with the biggest pieces of Legends of Tomorrow now in its rearview, Arrow can get back to the task to telling its own storyline the way it needs to be told.
Arrow continues next Wednesday with 'Dark Waters' @8pm on The CW.