It’s not often the penultimate episode of a long-running series is constructed as a backdoor pilot to a spin-off. But even rarer is a show heading into its final two hours with its titular character already enjoying a hard fought, well earned dirt nap after casually saving the universe – a fate both hero and viewers alike were aware of well over a year ago. It is under those strange, post-Crisis on Infinite Earths circumstances that “Green Arrow and the Canaries” exists, a backdoor pilot trying to leap frog off a near-decade of world and character building, to continue building the next generation of Arrowverse heroes alongside shows like Supergirl and Batwoman.
It is tough to strike a balance to find between carrying the torch of an iconic series, while still finding room for its own identity; that is the challenge facing both Mia and Arrow, as the Arrowverse looks to its next generation of storytelling.
As Arrow – and inevitably, The Flash – ride off into the sunset, The CW’s grasped the opportunity to diversify its starting lineup, on full display during the five-part Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover. No longer is the Arrowverse just led by Oliver Queen, Barry Allen, and Rip Hunter: with characters like Jefferson Pierce, Sara Lance, and now Mia Queen-Smoak, the Arrowverse is heading into the next decade with a refreshed starting lineup, a creative re-invigoration that reverberates through “Green Arrow and the Canaries” in some really interesting, if limited, ways.
Like most of the CW’s attempts to introduce new characters and worlds, “Green Arrow and the Canaries” is an awkward mash of ideas and tones, establishing a new Star City in 2040 post-Crisis, with all the inconceivably ridiculous machinations it takes to get there. Frankly, it does not do a great job of catching anyone up who is new to the Arrowverse, or is checking in with the final few episodes of Arrow to see what’s next: anytime it tries to explain how Mia lost her memories of 2020 (and how Dinah Drake ended up in 2040 Star City), “Green Arrow and the Canaries” strains credulity with its own premise.
Though, there is something to say for the episode’s very Legends of Tomorrow-esque approach to not really giving a fuck: we get cool shots of Dinah singing in a bar she owns (under her apartment, which looks like it is in the original clock tower Sara used as a hideout? Please don’t quote me on this if I am wrong), and it never lingers too long on trying to justify its existence. After all, how do you logically explain how the Earth-2 version of Laurel Lance, a Dinah who hasn’t aged in 20 years, and Oliver Queen’s adult daughter end up working on the same case (trying to find a kidnapped granddaughter of the Bertonelli family)? Smartly, “Green Arrow and the Canaries” only makes a few flimsy attempts before saying fuck it, and running with its narrative.
It makes for a fairly engaging experiment; with Mia Queen at the center, “Green Arrow and the Canaries” basically hits the reset button on Arrow‘s story of legacy, with Oliver as the deceased patriarch of the family, and Mia facing a world without either of her parents around (they do not mention Felicity at all, which is… very weird). How does someone follow in the footsteps of the man who saved the entire universe? “Green Arrow and the Canaries” doesn’t directly attack this issue, but the pressure of reputation, and the echoes of the trauma of losing him, provide this potential spin-off with an interesting emotional framework.
It also features Black Siren, as the Kate Cassidy redemption tour continues; after years being stuck in a laughably thin character (and equally limited performance), the integration of Earth-2’s badass, morally ambiguous Laurel Lance was a boon for Arrow‘s late season resurgence – a renaissance that welcomely continues into this new series, channeling Laurel-2’s goth bitchiness into a powerful, driven portrayal of a rich supporting character.
“Green Arrow and the Canaries” is not without its limitations, though: despite the inherent pleasure of seeing these three characters team up together (and the simple fact it is vastly superior to the languid, mediocre Batwoman), the actual dramatic arc of the episode is cookie cutter material, formulaic in the way any experienced Arrow or The Flash viewer will recognize. There’s plenty of intriguing potential here (like the maybe-return of Deathstroke 3.0, as Mia’s now-estranged fiancee), but unlike Legends of Tomorrow or Black Lightning, “Green Arrow and the Canaries” doesn’t really introduce any wrinkles to the well-worn Arrowverse storytelling formula, which could quickly lead any spin-off down a disappointing road of dwindling returns.
The Arrowverse as a whole is in a strange place; as The Flash winds down (or at least, appears to be), Legends of Tomorrow continues to fucking rule, and shows like Supergirl and Black Lightning cement their place in The CW’s lineup, the massive universe Berlanti and company have built (and with Crisis, completely integrated) is both on a promising path, and heading toward a critical crossroads.
If “Green Arrow and the Canaries” becomes Green Arrow and the Canaries, it must be careful not to follow in the footsteps of the disappointing Batwoman (which suffers from the unwieldy combination of poor plotting and dismal performances). Following the series that started it all is a challenging affair, and one that comes with the high stakes of tainting what came before it (after all, it wasn’t long ago that Mia Queen-Smoak was one of Arrow‘s weakest points, through most of season seven’s flashbacks).
But there’s a lot of potential here; if Green Arrow and the Canaries harnesses the energy of its central trio, it could be so much more than a carbon copy of its hallowed predecessor – which, at its worst moments, briefly turning Dinah into Felicity and Mia into proto-season one Oliver, it comes dangerously close to being. It’s tough to strike a balance between carrying the torch of an iconic series, while still finding room for establish a new identity; that’s the challenge facing both Mia and Arrow in “Green Arrow and the Canaries,” as the Arrowverse continues to look for the anchor of its next generation of storytelling.