Superheroes in a Dangerous Time, or Fear and Loathing in the Arrowverse

Arrow: Fear and the Police State


Image: CW

The Plot

This is probably the most complex Arrowverse plot this year… Season seven of Arrow returned to their old style of storytelling: two different story arcs set in two different time periods. But where season one through five split episodes between a main story in the present day and a flashback story of Oliver’s “five years in Hell” leading up to his return home in the pilot, season seven went a new direction. As Lost taught us, when you run out of flashbacks, flash forward. While the main story remained in the present day, the side story took us to 2040, where Oliver’s now-grown son William followed a series of clues left behind by his step-mother/Oliver’s wife Felicity Smoak that achieved three things: 1) reunited several aged members of Team Arrow; 2) exposed a danger to a dystopic Star City; and most notably 3) introduced William to his half-sister, Mia Smoak, who takes after her father in terms of combat badassery.

Meanwhile, in the present, we had a sort of three-act season. Oliver Queen spends the first chunk in prison for being the Green Arrow, while the various heroes try to bring down the previous season’s at-large Big Bad, Ricardo Diaz; upon his inevitable release (just in time for the crossover), an unmasked Oliver tries to legitimize Team Arrow as official law enforcement officers while also trying to get to know the half-sister he didn’t know he had, Emiko Queen, who seems to be trying to replace him as the Green Arrow; and finally they try to take down the Ninth Circle, international financiers of crime and terror led by the sinister Dante (played by Highlander’s Duncan Macleod of the Clan Macleod, Adrian Paul).

The Metaphor

In the present, Oliver is trying to legitimize vigilantes, to the point of working with a documentary crew for a few days (which makes for a neat device for the 150th episode, and an excuse for some familiar faces to return). In 2040, vigilantes are blamed for the sorry state of Star City. Which… that feels like a stretch. “Our city is decaying into Mad Max times, let’s blame it all on unlicensed crime fighters.” And people bought that?

So no, vigilantes aren’t the best metaphor for immigrants or the LGBT+ community or whatever conservatives are screaming about to distract you from the latest tax cut for the rich or reversal of action on climate change… man, conservatives are the worst and will kill us… but Arrow has something else up it’s sleeve. The secret corporate cabal behind the downfall of Star City use a secret weapon to maintain control… a hyper-intelligent security system called Archer. Which in the present, begins to be created by Felicity.

See, with Diaz hunting her and her stepson, Felicity got scared, and turned that tech genius of hers to developing a new security system to protect her apartment. A security system so effective only, like, two villains managed to break in over the course of the season! That’s a better success rate than Flash’s Star Labs, Supergirl’s DEO, and the Time Bureau from Legends of Tomorrow! Her apartment secured, Felicity thought she could use the same tech to protect the entire city, finally make it safe for her growing family.

Naturally, less altruistic types get their hands on it, in the present and future, and use it for evil.

Our metaphor? Fear leads us to bad choices. Fear can make us trade freedom for security, and that’s a slippery slope. If you build a hyper-vigilant and kiiiinda invasive security system, someone is gonna use it to create an oppressive, nightmarish police state. They’re going to find some group to make you afraid of, and then use your fear of vigilantes… vigilantes? Really? Jesus, I cannot get on board with their choice of scapegoats… to convince you to give up your freedom and allow a scootch of mass murder in exchange for them cleaning up the problem they’ve basically created.

The Villain

(Spoilers ahoy if you care about that.)

The previous season’s finale felt more like a fall finale, the break before Christmas, and that made for a slightly disjointed arc… and apparently made it hard to pick a main villain. At first, it seemed to be a returning Ricardo Diaz, but they gradually segued from him to Dante and the Ninth Circle… then revealed that Emiko was the Circle’s true leader.

Okay. Yes, in the comics, Emiko is a little more… morally flexible than Oliver, and yes, she and her mother were compromised by the Ninth Circle, but she was never a villain. She’s a Teen Titan these days, for Zod’s sake, and only the second shadiest one! (Damien Wayne is pulling some questionable shit these days.) Why do they keep doing this?

I do have a theory in this case… it’s been known for a while that Stephen Amell was looking to move on, but that they hoped to keep the show going. It feels like maybe they introduced Emiko as a way to transition Arrow from one archery-themed crime fighter to another, but when the CW made it clear that they were going to wrap things up next season, they went another way with Emiko. But hey, at least Oliver’s ultimate plan is to redeem Emiko, not kill her. So there’s that.

The Solution

The only thing that saves present and future Teams Arrow is connection. Oliver reaching out to Emiko, the vigilantes connecting with the police that resented them, Mia and William working in tandem. That and letting go of fear, fear of villains, of vigilantes, or Felicity’s fear of her children following in their parents’ footsteps.

Let go of fear, embrace hope, be there for your friends, the future might suck for a while but it can be taken back. That’s our lesson.

Random Thoughts

  • What is up with the Arrowverse and bleak futures? Legends of Tomorrow gave us a future Star City under siege by Deathstroke’s younger son and a future where intelligence agency ARGUS goes full-big-brother. Sure, any future where Earth can still sustain life in 20 years is inherently optimistic right now, but still… maybe open the door to the possibility that some of our heroes improve the world a little?
  • Honestly until the end of the season I was holding out hope that the endgame of the future story was going to be finding the wreck of the Waverider or Flash’s daughter or something capable of time travel and preventing the very heavily foreshadowed impending death of Oliver Queen and keeping the city from collapsing in the first place. They send up that many “Oliver is gonna die” signal flares, I start looking for the last second surprise rescue. Well, ten episodes left, nothing’s over yet.
  • Katherine McNamara kind of kills it as Mia Smoak. I’d have watched a spinoff about her and the other Team Arrow Kids.
  • They also spend some time on abuses in America’s prison system. Oliver’s time in Slabside is more Shawshank Redemption than Orange is the New Black. Hence naming the last episode of that arc “The Slabside Redemption.” But hey, it brought Vinnie Jones and Michael Jai White back to the show, and that ain’t nothing.

Next page: Flash tackles parenthood and an unstoppable serial killer.

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