Signs of the expanded universe created across Arrow and through to The Flash and the upcoming Legends of Tomorrow is now seen in just about every episode of the show. In the first four episodes of the season there’s always been some reference or callback to past, present or future events in the DC Comic TV universe, but even at that, tonight’s Arrow was special. Although Constantine is gone, John Constantine and his portrayer Matt Ryan were not forgotten, and on this week’s Arrow, the master of magic and the dark arts helped Team Arrow solve a very serious supernatural problem with tremendous results.
Anyone coming into this episode hoping for wall-to-wall Constantine were bound to be disappointed. Ryan’s appearance seemed more like an exaggerated cameo than a major role, which makes sense given the production logistics it took to get Ryan to Vancouver to film the episode as he was in the middle of a play rehearsal in New York. In an ideal world, we might have had two episodes of Constantine, one where his past with Oliver on Lian Yu might have been highlighted, and another where Oliver calls for John’s help in the present, but given everything, episode writer Oscar Balderrama managed to balance all the necessary elements well.
Let’s start on the island where questions about Oliver’s loyalty are put aside when Reiter interrogates a mysterious interloper that’s appeared on the island, a British man with sandy blonde hair and a treasure map made up of Lian Yu landmarks that Oliver recognizes. Constantine escapes using magic and forces Oliver to help him find where ‘x’ marks the spot. The MacGuffin that lies at the bottom of a Lost-like hatch is collected, and after saving John from a Raiders-like trap Constantine gives Oliver an IOU and a magic tattoo that he’ll “know how to use when the time is right.”
More practically though, Constantine’s appearance on Lian Yu offered a rare occasion of relevance for the flashbacks, and provided a nice break from Oliver’s undercover mission there, which, as of yet, has not been full explained. Constantine describes Lian Yu as a place as old as the Earth itself and that it draws bad people to its power, which I think is the worst kept secret for all those that have been there. Obviously, there’s more going on with Reiter and his men than growing poppies, but it would be nice if there was some explanation soon about the new deal on Lian Yu.
In the present, Sara’s escape from Laurel’s basement does not go unnoticed as a blonde woman has been going on the rampage and attacking people in Star City. The cold open is an odd copy of Sara’s (or at least Caity Lotz‘s) first appearance on the show as the Canary, saving a waitress from would-be attackers, but when Sara attacks the victim too, you realize just how far gone she is. Later though, we see a connection between the women Sara is targeting: they all look like Thea Queen.
It was a cathartic week for Team Arrow. Thea comes clean about her blood lust, Laurel comes clean about her and Thea’s “spa weekend” in Nanda Parbat and the fact that she broke a few laws of nature to get her sister back. Predictably, this led to another shouting match between Oliver and Laurel, with Black Canary calling Green Arrow judgmental and righteous adding that he has never seen her as an equal. True, Oliver was less than enthusiastic about Laurel playing superhero, but when she’s behaving as patently stupid has she has been lately, it’s hard not to see it from Oliver’s point-of-view.
As if Laurel’s lapse of logic was catching, the episode had trouble with the logic of Sara’s homicidal pursuit of Thea. If Thea and Sara had a connection owing to Thea’s having killed Sara, then why didn’t Sara immediately come after Thea rather than attacking Thea surrogates? How does a manic Sara manage to get past Oliver and Laurel standing right outside Thea’s hospital room? And didn’t it seem as though being soulless also made Sara as indestructible as a Kryptonian on a sunny day? The contortions to resurrect Sara have been problematic all season so far, kind of like the contortions to make Sara’s murder matter in the first place last season. Still, it did give us an occasion for Constantine. Or as Felicity put it, “I’m just glad the latest person from Oliver’s past is not another gorgeous woman.”
Much like Ollie and John’s flashback adventure, the “restoration” or Sara seemed to come off rather simply, and in the process Oliver and Laurel learn to work together and be friends again. Constantine takes the three of them to some kind of underworld made to look like the Lazarus Pit room in Nanda Parbat, and while Oliver and Laurel rescue Sara from what I assume were demons trying to drown her in the Pit, Constantine fought off some kind of League of Assassins demon. Really, if it wasn’t for the fact that this was some kind of netherworld, Team Arrow wouldn’t have needed Constantine’s help at all, but from a meta-informative standpoint, Ryan was only available for a couple of days so its understandable.
Constantine’s arrival in Star City ended up having all the hallmarks of your normal TV crossover, basically it hopes to coast on the novelty of seeing two of your favorite characters from different shows interact with each other. On that simple goal, this episode of Arrow was a smash success, and if the point of this endeavor was to get Matt Ryan and Stephen Amell together on the same stage, and giving fans the treat they might not have otherwise gotten, I’m kind of okay with that. Twice The X-Files was used to posthumously wrap up series – Millennium and The Lone Gunmen – that were cancelled before their time, and twice it was unsuccessful because those episodes tried to do too much in the service of plots from two masters. If the point of hosting Constantine on Arrow was to have John Constantine on the show, then that’s good enough.
There was also another unusual team-up this week on the show, Diggle and Captain Lance shared a mission to deliver a virus to a Federal database facility, the intent was to erase names and files of people of interest to H.I.V.E., including Andy Diggle. Lance is able to use his connection to Damien Darhk to get info as to why Andy was killed, and it turns out the other Diggle brother was up to his nose in dirty dealings. Does that make sense? Why would a criminal mastermind be working security while his wife waits tables a burger joint. Obviously, there’s more to the story, and if it leads to more Quentiggle adventures, then that’s a bonus. Both are fathers, men of honor striving to do what’s right in the face of a corrupt system, and its a potential partnership ripe for exploration.
And like a dried peacock feather understood to be meant for a spell but only used as a back scratcher in the end, our highly anticipated Constantine crossover episode has come and gone. Sure, we still have the return of Ray Palmer, and next month’s big Flash crossover to look forward to, but like going to bed on Christmas night there is the thinnest suspicion that the reality didn’t match the hype. Still, we should be grateful that in our multifaceted TV universe, we got the Constantine we needed, if not the Constantine we deserved. You can’t always get what you want, but a little can still go a long way.