Arrow Season 8 Episode 4 “Present Tense”
Director: Kristin Windell
Starring: Stephen Amell, David Ramsey, Rick Gonzalez, Juliana Harkavy, Katherine McNamara, Ben Lewis, Joseph David-Jones, LaMonica Garrett, Katie Cassidy, Audrey Marie Anderson, Andrea Sixtos
Runtime: 42 minutes
In addition to being the first and the namesake, I believe one of the reasons Arrow remains the flagship show of The Arrowverse despite others earning greater critical and commercial success (as Legends and Flash, respectively, generally do) is that for all its inconsistency at its best it’s still capable of telling the most human stories. This episode, probably one of the show’s all-time best, is proof of that, as the latest sci-fi plot twist is used to tell a strikingly emotional story about parenthood and family.
The flashforwards ultimately didn’t amount to much by themselves but this one episode nearly justifies their existence as Oliver and his team now face their grown children and are shaken by the hard lives they’ve had to lead (or in, Rene’s case regarding Zoe, how tragically short those lives were) and how their own choices have affected the outcomes of those lives.
Stephen Amell has been doing great work all season but he’s especially breathtaking here, with the flood of emotions Oliver feels upon seeing the children he plans to sacrifice himself to protect radiating out of him every second he’s on-screen. As expected, a lot of the episode’s focus is on Oliver struggling to establish a relationship with Mia, the child he got to spend the least time with when they were young, and while Katherine McNamara still plays some moments a little too aggressively she softens up by the end and the scene in which she agrees to let Oliver teach her how to cope with the traumas that come with the superhero lifestyle and the one in which she accepts a midnight snack from Oliver on William’s recommendation were both pretty great. But it’s that first one on one scene between Oliver and William that’s the highlight of the episode, and probably one of the best scenes in the show’s history. Everything about it, from the beautiful handling of William’s coming out to Oliver’s joking confusion at where Mia gets her emotionally distant side and William’s mocking suggestion of Felicity is just perfect and the way Amell and Ben Lewis capture the characters’ sheer joy at being able to put some of the rougher parts of their history behind them and just be in each other’s presences is incredible.
As riveting as the Queen family dynamics are, this is also the episode of this season that has done the most to widen its focus to encompass the entire team. Everyone’s predictably thrown by the time travel shenanigans (the actual reasons for which are as yet unclear, though everyone assumes it’s the Monitor’s doing). Diggle is pretty much a jerk to Connor throughout because as eager as he is to dole out advice Dig’s pretty terrible about handling his own problems (though yes, finding out you’re going to adopt one kid and fail your biological one to the point he becomes a terrorist would be a tough pill to swallow). Dig’s coldness and Joseph David-Jones’ increasingly emotional work also help make Connor feel like a more worthwhile part of the cast. Rene goes from utter despair about Zoe to determined to alter the future so that she never dies pretty fast but Rick Gonzales’ convicted performance helps sell it. Juliana Harkavy proves yet again that she does her best work in supporting capacities as Dinah bounces between her teammates, trying to help them ride out their various emotional roller coasters. And Laurel’s advice to Mia shows how the former is now the most balanced character in the cast, and Katie Cassidy its most versatile actor next to Amell.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Season 8 episode without a big twist in the final moments. The latest wrinkle comes by way of the Monitor making an offer to Laurel: he will revive Earth-2 if she betrays Oliver. This puts the next couple episodes on a bit of a slippery slope. Laurel’s development from villain to anti-hero to hero has been one of the highlights of the last few years of the show so it is understandable why the writers would want to highlight it. But if they have Laurel make a mistake here and then have to atone throughout the final few episodes it’s going to feel repetitive. Still, considering how Arrow started its sort of fitting that the show would dangle the possibly of Oliver being betrayed by Laurel so close to the end, even if it’s not actually the same Laurel that he cheated on all those years ago.
Ultimately “Present Tense” is unique among Season 8’s episodes so far in that the final shock doesn’t totally upstage everything that’s come before. Laurel and Monitor’s conversation contributes little to making this an Arrow great. Instead, it achieves that status because of the raw, complicated emotion it taps into that pays off all the time we’ve spent getting to know these characters.
- The threat of a new Deathstroke gang waging war on the city and some specific visual callbacks mark this as the Season 2 tribute episode. It’s rather odd that what is generally considered the best season in the show’s history would receive the least substantial homage.
- The emotional fireworks made up for the fact that the action was rather dull tonight for the first time this year.
- In addition to everything else going on Echo Kellum returned as Curtis Holt, a character the show is honestly better off without even if Kellum is fine here.
- That little fluttering of the eyes Amell does when Oliver hears he has to go back to Russia was perfect.
Arrow Season 8 Episode 4
The Team Arrows of two generations meet in a stunning episode.