Arrow: 810 “Fadeout” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
The trajectory of some series can be described as, in their own way, a legible line of development. Breaking Bad began with mild-mannered Walter White, turned him into a drug-dealing kingpin and monster, and then broke him down to nothing, for instance. The recently departed Mr. Robot set out to fix the world and ended up doing just that. Attempting to do the same for Arrow’s eight seasons and 169 episodes is… difficult. There are maybe two seasons of straight-line in there, before increasingly loopy crossovers and intermittent fan backlashes sent that line into an illegible corkscrew. Arrow promised in the very first episode that Oliver Queen would become something else, and he did. It’s just that I don’t know if anybody, including the writers, planned for Oliver to become a partly undead spectral entity responsible for a new Big Bang. Equally, I think the finale lead-up of a huge five-show crossover which killed the protagonist twice followed by a pilot for a spin-off that hasn’t yet been ordered could be considered unconventional. So, with all that in mind, how could Arrow really sum itself up?
To call Fadeout a strange episode, both ultra-dense and narratively sparse, crammed with exposition yet patently struggling to invent new things to say, isn’t necessarily to criticise it. As a summation of Arrow, it’s difficult to describe how it could be more fitting. It’s a thoroughly flawed episode of television, and not much more than a serviceable series finale, but its incoherencies and jagged edges are, strangely, part of its nostalgic charm. This was never a show which could ever decide on being one thing for long, anyway.
The way in which the finale treats the dearly departed Oliver Queen is perfectly emblematic of this. For one last time, we’re back in flashback land, peering through the years at a cynical and kill-happy Oliver with only Diggle by his side. The stated intention of these flashbacks is to provide a dose of adrenaline for an episode ninety percent comprised of melancholic eulogies, and to illuminate Oliver’s moral and personal development across the eight seasons through juxtaposition. On the first account, it definitely succeeds – the freedom to be as violent and undiscerning as possible clearly liberates director James Bamford, and fittingly sends off some of TV’s most consistently impressive action choreography. The second is a fun example of how Arrow never really worked its own morality out.
We’re meant to recognise the brutality of old Oliver, but also see the germs of his more humane future in his decision to spare Generic Bad Guy: The Final Edition. To this end, the viewer is treated to a lengthy parade of monologues about what a good boy – the best, even – Oliver was, and how inspirational he was, and how heroic he was, and how selfless he was, and did you recognise that he is simply the greatest man who ever lived yet, or do we need to spell that out one more time? This sits confusingly with how the flashbacks actually play out, which is that Oliver kills approximately 30 goons-for-hire and then spares the life of the man responsible for hiring these goons, sending him to prison for a short sentence that manifestly does not make him any less evil. For this, he is given a pat on the head and a biscuit by Diggle, but it really just seems like Oliver hates working-class criminals but finds some empathy for the rich guy whose name he knows. I honestly don’t consider this a flaw so much as a perfect symbol of the limitations of Arrow’s antihero’s journey, which had all the stages of moral development mapped out perfectly but struggled to apply them to real situations.
The rest of Fadeout is uncut nostalgia; an impressively vast array of guest stars returning to demonstrate the perfectness of Oliver’s fixed world. Honestly, I don’t have a clue what future binge viewers will think of the decision to undo every major death that has ever happened on the show, but as a viewer who has sat through a great deal of moping, and doesn’t have to spend any more time in this corner of the Arrowverse anymore, I liked how openly sentimental the resurrections were. Full, goofy commitment to its silly ideas was always the best look for Arrow, and there’s enough of an excuse provided by the dual memories all the characters have, so this was an effective use of the ‘why not?’ card that only series finales are given.
Truth be told, little of Fadeout is surprising. The last season finale gave viewers all the information they needed to work out Arrow’s endgame, with only the details left in question; maybe the only real example of a final twist is Diggle’s Green Lantern moment, an entertainingly silly way to answer years of questions from fans. That’s fine, because this is a finale which never aspires to be anything more than a 42-minute nostalgia tour which gives some old faces one last chance to work together. If all of it seems a little mild, a little risk-averse, then slap the blame on Oliver’s disappointingly lukewarm send-off Crisis on Infinite Earths, which walked back all of the interesting stuff it promised to do with the character at the last moment.
Given the cards it was dealt, Fadeout was a perfectly capable finale to a final season which, despite its obvious status as a studio-mandated bolt-on to a story which had pretty much wrapped itself up thematically, was nearly as energetic and twisty as Arrow’s early days. It allows Arrow to go out how it came into this world; openly sentimental, periodically loudly grimdark, deeply confused about personal ethics and occasionally profound. Arrow’s legacy is, until Oliver returns from Office Heaven to save the world one last time in a crossover five years down the line, safe and sound.