The arrival of the warmongering aliens, the Dominators, was more than high stakes for the human race. It was the evolution of DC’s TV universe. At the center of “Invasion!” was Arrow, which began in 2012 as an action drama wrapped in a sexy CW sheen utilizing a ready-to-cook comics mythology. Starring Stephen Amell as Oliver Queen, aka the Green Arrow, the crossover occurred during Arrow’s landmark 100th episode amidst a fifth season engineered as the end to a five-year “chapter.” Arrow isn’t going away — Season 6 is likely — but it will wrap up in a narrative sense, and before it does, it’s looking back as it moves forward. And no episode proved its season-long thesis better than “Invasion!”

Physically, Oliver and his superhero pals were further than they’ve ever been before: They were in space, on a ship, in a “shared hallucination” being probed for intel. While the Dominators tried to find their weaknesses, Oliver, his sister Thea (Willa Holland), ex Sara Lance (Caity Lotz), loyal partner John Diggle (David Ramsey), and former business rival-turned-superhero Ray Palmer (Brandon Routh) lived an alternate life where Oliver wasn’t shipwrecked on the Queen’s Gambit and left on Lian Yu. For a good chunk of “Invasion!,” Arrow actually felt like it was back in Season 1.

In this reality, Oliver is engaged to his longtime girlfriend Laurel (guest star Katie Cassidy), who is still alive along with his parents. Barry Allen had his own fantasy world in Flashpoint, but in “Invasion!” Oliver has his and basks in it until it cracks, leading him to question everything. Eventually, Queen finds the Green Arrow, and it’s Diggle, who has taken on the mantle with Felicity assisting him. Close friends and family are now strangers, and Oliver realizes that even if he’s happy, he’s not fulfilled. Later, while still in the hallucination, Oliver delivers to Thea what might be the quote of the series:

“I didn’t make those sacrifices for a reward, Thea,” Oliver tells her. “I did what I did because I thought it was right. And seeing all of this shows me that there’s so much more to do.”

There were small things in “Invasion!” that went deep into lore: The lavish Queen Mansion, which hasn’t been seen in years, returned as the show’s predominant setting complete with its Russian housekeeping. Remember the would-be surrogate mother figure Raisa from the pilot? Because fans do. And there was acknowledgement of Tommy Merlyn, who in a meta-reference is working in a Chicago hospital (Colin Donnell is a regular on NBC’s Chicago Med).

But the big things made the biggest impression. In what might be the most revelatory moment in the history of the show, Oliver and Quentin Lance (Paul Blackthorne) share an envious relationship as in-laws. It’s unknown how the Dominators engineered their fake reality, but I like to believe it’s based on the deep wishes of its subjects, and perhaps Oliver yearns for acceptance from Quentin. The shipwreck prevented Oliver and Quentin from growing as closely as maybe either of them want, and today they couldn’t be further apart.

The visual metaphor of Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman), Deathstroke, Damien Darhk (Neal McDonough), and Mirakuru soldiers roadblocking the team is something that can only be achieved with careful storytelling in a broader mythology. Arrow wasn’t and isn’t always smart, but it’s always tried, and “Invasion!” was paydirt for fans who stuck through Arrow’s highs and lows.

And yes, “Invasion!” was oxygen for those who yearn for Laurel without teasing a return. I loathe shipping — I don’t think good drama hinges on who hooks up with who — but I miss Laurel. And it’s because a Green Arrow series should have a Black Canary but because Laurel was wasted potential.

Whether it was the lack of chemistry between Cassidy and Amell, or Laurel’s overwriting on the part of the show, Laurel had her time. But I caught feelings seeing her again because, maybe, this is what Arrow should have been. (Damn those warm hues the cinematographers used in the show’s early years.) Fans of the “Olicity” shipdom also had their fill, assuring that Arrow hasn’t forgotten everything, but in the end neither were as important as the mission at hand.

Arrow Laurel
Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) and Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy) in 'Arrow' Season 5.

In what could have been a giant clusterfuck of an episode became one of the finest in the era of modern superhero TV. “Invasion!” wasn’t just a ratings stunt, it was also a celebration of Arrow, a show that began this universe, while it never once selfishly touted its horn. There was generous airtime dedicated to the immediate plot — there was the very cool dynamic of the Flash (Grant Gustin) and Supergirl (Melissa Benoist) teaming with Team Arrow’s rookies — while also caring to remind its audience of the show it used to be, the one that hooked fans in the first place. It’s fine that Arrow is a different show today than it was in 2012. It’s also just appreciated that it won’t also forget.

Photos via The CW

Eric is a film and journalism graduate of Rutgers University. Specializing in the nerdy side of pop culture, he has also written for Geekscape and TheDishh. He’s still hoping to be bitten by a radioactive spider.

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