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Warning: spoilers ahead for the tenth episode of Arrow Season 7, called "My Name Is Emiko Queen."
Arrow has toyed with timelines from the very beginning. The first five seasons of the series paralleled Oliver Queen's journey in the present as the Green Arrow with the five years of hell in the past that transformed him into the Green Arrow, all via flashback. The end of the fifth season marked the end of the five years of flashbacks, and Season 6 expanded the scope of Arrow timeline shenanigans. In Season 7, Arrow went with flash-forwards, and it may have been a huge mistake.
Now, I'll be the first to admit that I loved the Season 7 premiere twist that what seemed like flashbacks set on Lian Yu with a brand new character were actually flash-forwards featuring adult William on a search for a decades-older Roy Harper. Showrunner Beth Schwartz and the rest of the Arrow team managed to keep that twist a secret in an era in which spoilers for big twists are all but impossible to avoid (as former Arrow showrunner Marc Guggenheim knew well), and I was excited about what flashing forward could mean for Season 7.
After ten episodes of the season, the flash-forwards have been less delightfully twisty and more (debatably) tedious. Flash-forwards in and of themselves could have worked; the Season 7 flash-forwards aren't what they could be. Here's why.
Arrow has never been the brightest and jolliest show in primetime, but the flashes forward to a not-so-distant future in which everything Oliver fought for has gone to hell have been grim to the point that the mystery just isn't all that much fun to consider. Legends of Tomorrow did introduce a future Star City back in its first season, and it was a hellscape for reasons beyond Oliver's awful goatee.
Legends of Tomorrow came with the hope that it was a future that could be changed, however, and there was every reason to believe that the future in which a new Green Arrow took over after Oliver lost an arm (and grew that goatee) would be changed, with Deathstroke's son never taking over. For all that the Arrow-verse has gotten more fantastical with The Flash, Legends, and even Supergirl over on Earth-38, what happens on Arrow outside of crossovers tends to be permanent.
Even if Arrow finds a way to change the future without going too Flash-y or Legend-ary, the flash-forwards don't have that light at the end that the flashbacks did. Even when Oliver was battling Slade on Lian Yu and going full Bratva, we knew that he was going to get better. The flash-forwards have given us no reason to hope for anything less than something slightly less awful than the current status quo.
That leads me to a second issue that I've found with the flash-forwards: the stars of the scenes set in the future aren't ones that fans have tons of reasons to be utterly attached to.
The key players of the flash-forwards are adult William, adult Zoe, and older versions of Dinah and Roy. A young fighter named Maya with mysterious connections to Felicity was introduced, and Rene made his flash-forward debut in "My Name Is Emiko Queen" as the mayor of The Glades. Roy hasn't been around as a regular for long enough that viewers will necessarily be 100% hooked on the flash-forwards for his sake, and Arrow hasn't spent so much time with William and especially Zoe for deep emotional investment.
In the present timeline, William has mostly served to be kidnapped, endangered, and/shipped off-screen out of danger. For her part, Zoe is Rene's daughter who supports vigilantes and likes boxing classes. While the latter does set her up to become Black Canary by Arrow standards, as those of us who are still haunted by how quickly Laurel won superhero status after starting her boxing lessons, we don't really have reasons to care about her as more than a child who doesn't deserve to be kidnapped or endangered.
While Arrow is likely going to continue exploring William and Zoe's characters in the present, more reasons to care about them would have been helpful before they were introduced as the anchors of the flash-forwards. I'm not sure that retroactive reasons to deeply care about them will be terribly impactful. Diggle at least has been mentioned as alive in the flash-forward timeline; why couldn't we have the very first member of Team Arrow other than Oliver himself in the flash-forwards from the beginning?
Speaking of Diggle as alive and well, we have to contemplate the death of Felicity. The reveal of Felicity's "death" felt too major and came too early in the season to feel like it was really going to stick. For those of us who don't really buy that Felicity is dead, her death as motivation in the flash-forwards doesn't feel too pressing. Would Arrow really have casually killed the female lead of the series, off-screen and in an episode other than a premiere or finally?
Now, if you're like me, you never entirely got over how Dinah, Rene, and Curtis turned on Oliver and blamed him for absolutely everything back in Season 6. In my book, they never really made amends for their less-than-heroic behavior last year, so it's difficult for me to root for them in the flash-forwards. Also, the aging effects on Colton Haynes, Juliana Harkavy, and Rene Ramirez aren't all that convincing for me. Roy basically got stubble, Dinah got grey streaks in her hair, and Rene got... well, more hair, with some streaks. May we all age as gracefully as the superheroes of Arrow!
All of this said, I don't want to write off the flashbacks. Arrow has pleasantly surprised me more than once this season, and I give kudos to the show for finding a way out of Oliver outing himself as the Green Arrow at the end of Season 6 without resetting the etnire series.
Of course, it's possible that this new Green Arrow could be set up to take over for Oliver, and there's no saying what might come of the foreshadowing of something happening to Oliver in the "Crisis on Infinite Earths" crossover in the fall. We'll have to wait and see. Tune in to The CW on Mondays at 8 p.m. ET for new episodes of Arrow, and be sure to take a look at our midseason TV premiere guide.