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Performers Of The Month - Readers' Choice Most Outstanding Performer of October - Stephen Amell

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The article was written by Donna Cromeans and Ellys Cartin. Article edited by Donna Cromeans (@DJRiter). Article prepared for publication by Aimee Hicks.

Seven years ago, Stephen Amell first stepped into the shoes of reluctant hero and one-time vigilante Oliver Queen on Arrow. Since that time, he has taken us on Oliver’s journey from angry playboy to revered hero, friend, husband, and father. Now in this eighth and final season of the CW’s original superhero show, we see the character embarking on a fateful quest to be the ultimate hero and save the world from the destruction foretold by the Monitor (LaMonica Garrett). That quest began in the show’s season premiere, Starling City (8x1), in which Oliver relives a bizarre version of his past on Earth-2 to complete a mission for the Monitor. He’s alone and away from the friends and family he loves. While known for the physical commitment he brings to the role, people often forget that Amell is a fine dramatic actor. In this episode, he brings maturity and nuanced performance to this character and for this reason, has earned the title of Spoiler TV Readers’ Choice of Performer of the Month for October.

Oliver may be on an alternate Earth, but the people and events he encounters wrap him in deja vu. Amell plays each scene as if Oliver is having a type of out-of-body experience. When he lifts his head on Lian Yu, his eyes are simultaneously disorientated and crushed by the weight of reconciling memories with his present situation. It immediately conjures the image of a person being possessed by a ghost, although Oliver is haunting himself. In his hospital room after being rescued, Oliver just looks out the window, detached from the view and his own reflection, adrift in nostalgia. Amell keeps himself in the center of the room, away from the edges; this makes it feel like Oliver has just been dropped into the scene, that he’s not connected to anything. It’s very similar to when a character experiences an illusion or has a dream. He exists separately from his surroundings. When Moira Queen (Susanna Thompson) enters, Oliver greets his mother with immense tenderness rather than the jubilation of a reunion after years apart. He was waiting for her. He is distant, as if he is watching the meeting from far away even as he participates in it, but the carefully measured love and gratitude in his voice conveys volumes. Amell imbues the serious emotional state of his character with a soft echo as if everything happening is happening inside a dream. Even a casual viewer tuning in for the first time would know Oliver doesn’t belong to this world.

Oliver’s mission to Earth-2 requires him to pass through this version of his life with minimal fuss, which presents hurdles of every kind. He stares into the eyes of his best friend Tommy Merlyn (Colin Donnell) and nearly cries. He discovers his one-time mortal enemy is married to his mom and reacts with a resigned sigh. He learns his sister died in this world, and he feels a brief surge of grief-stricken rage. Each one of these revelations inherently carries a lifetime of baggage. Amell lets Oliver process them all at once with a few seconds at most spent coming to terms. We can see in his eyes that he wants to stop and figure out what each of these alternate realities mean, but he pushes those thoughts down. Shortly afterward, Moira finds Oliver in his room. He’s sitting on the corner of the bed, again staying in the middle of the space as if he’s a stranger who shouldn’t be inhabiting it. He poses the question to his mother of whether she would have left him and Thea if it meant protecting them. His own son and daughter are weighing on his mind. When she tells him, as his own version of Moira once did, that everything she has done was to protect her children, Oliver crumbles and hugs his mother tightly. There is no mistaking the apology and understanding and forgiveness in that embrace, although this Moira doesn’t know the context. However, Oliver is keeping his distance from this world as he uses the hug to swipe Moira’s keycard.

The episode is not without its humor, as shown in unexpectedly poignant interactions Oliver has with Earth-2’s Black Siren Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy-Rogers) and Earth-2’s “The Hood” Adrian Chase (Josh Segarra). Amell’s bemused aside that Chase is showing off by climbing the salmon ladder, a trademark workout once upon a time for Oliver, is offset by his tone of wistful nostalgia. Since Laurel does recognize him for who he really is, Oliver is able to be as honest with her as he can. There is respect in their banter, even as he sidesteps most of her questions, and charm in their familiarity. As for Chase, at this point, Oliver is more and more unable to emotionally separate the people of this world from their counterparts from his own life. Some sarcasm seeps into his begrudging acknowledgment of the other man’s presence. More importantly, though, Oliver is caught up in helping Chase and Laurel solve their world’s Dark Archer mystery until the Monitor warns him to not get too involved. This latter confrontation Amell approaches with a decided amount of bitterness in Oliver’s demeanor and language. Oliver’s frustration isn’t directed personally at the Monitor, however, and we visibly see his resolve resurface when the Monitor asks about this commitment to the mission.

With the final season being a celebration of everything that has made Arrow great, an Oliver and Diggle (David Ramsey) moment in the premiere was a necessity. The callback to their first meeting is perfect. Amell’s face glows with the warmth of several suns when Oliver sees Diggle standing at the door. Oliver can’t contain his exultation. If this were a sitcom, this would be the moment the audience claps and cheers. The two men stand there briefly alone in time and space, with Oliver so overcome he doesn’t recognize that the Diggle in front of him has the same joy in his eyes. Ramsey and Amell put every second of the twelve years of brotherhood and friendship that Diggle and Oliver have shared into this one moment. It is clear Oliver had not yet made his peace with never seeing his friend again, and the conversation they have next about what Oliver is doing reflects that. He stresses that what he’s doing is different than other times he’s gone it alone, but he doesn’t put up too much of an argument for why Diggle should leave. Later Oliver does try to leave Diggle behind again. He uses a powerful military metaphor about one man throwing himself on a grenade to keep the blast from hurting the people he cares about. Diggle answers that back with an impassioned literary reference by telling Oliver he won’t let him go gently into the night. Oliver responds by tricking his friend into a chokehold, because the intensity of the conversation was just too much to handle.

Failing to save his first best friend Tommy is one of the weightier pieces of baggage Oliver carries, and the main arc of this episode is Oliver choosing to believe in the Earth-2 version of him. It’s been years since Donnell was a regular on Arrow, but he and Amell pick up as though they never left off. When Tommy is holding Oliver prisoner, the latter quietly lets his friend know that there is still room for redemption. It’s a moment of calm for Oliver too. He is the most at peace in the episode whenever he’s giving something to someone he cares about: creating the happy reunion with Moira, accepting Diggle’s right to stay at his side, and fighting for this Tommy’s soul without batting an eye. Amell brings quiet conviction to the speech Oliver gives where he tries to persuade Tommy to not go through with this plan. There is no wiggle room in his faith. When there is no other choice but to fight Tommy, Oliver does. It’s the last of several fantastic action scenes in the episode. Amell has always committed one hundred percent to the intense physicality of this role, and his fight sequences are just exquisite ballets by this point. Saving Starling City requires Tommy’s cooperation, and Oliver secures it by verbally wrestling for his friend’s soul. In a vulnerable confession, he tells Tommy about how it has felt to lose the people closest to him. Amell’s voice breaks under the weight of Oliver’s grief over the unspoken mourning he must now do for the life he will never have with his friends and family. His plea to Tommy to choose between darkness and light is full of rage but also love. He could not be more genuine.

With Tommy defeated Oliver’s mission on Earth-2 is done. Back in the Bunker, he gathers the Dwarf Star and prepares to return to his earth. Instead of Oliver’s typical stoic tone, Amell embodies a subtle warmth and nuance when talking to Chase. He offers the wisdom of experience in being The Hood, wisely suggesting he change the name to Green Arrow. However, the highlight of this scene is the short moment he shares with Cassidy Rodger’s Laurel. His eyes shine bright and he has a slight smile conveying the pride he has in her. He’s passing the torch to her as the hero and protector of Starling City in pride of how much her character has grown. Again, far from the physical action scenes he is noted for, Amell offers a strong, reserved demeanor with a highly nuanced performance. Later as he and Diggle prepare to leave, he gives a sigh before they get on the elevator as though, he’s a man resigned to his fate despite Diggle’s repeated protests that he should fight.

One final stop before returning to their Earth, finds Oliver at the jail to speak to Tommy. It’s a bittersweet moment beautifully played by Amell and Donnell with barely perceptible nods of the head, soft tones as both men feel the pain of loss and lost opportunities. Yet, the most heartbreaking part of this scene is when his mother and Malcolm (John Barrowman) come rushing in. Having essentially said his final good-bye to the man he considered a brother, with a slight nod of the head, then asks his mother to step outside. Once there is perhaps Amell’s finest moment in the hour. He stops, takes a breath and gathers himself, looking at his mother warmly as though to memorize her every feature. He knows this is the last time he will see her he gathers her in his arms tightly, his eyes filled with tears and his voice shaken with emotion as he gets the good-bye he was denied on his Earth. As he and Diggle walk away Laurel rushes in to declare the city is under attack. Oliver is shocked and stunned to learn this is the destruction from the Monitor he’s trying to prevent. When he and Diggle should be leaving that world to its fate, he cannot help but make one last heroic act and that’s to push Laurel through the portal to spare her the fate of her doomed world.

The writers and producers are clearly sending Oliver on a true hero’s journey in the show’s swan song season. Amell is giving the performance of the series in true heroic fashion, showing us a mature, patient, and resigned Oliver Queen, unafraid of the sacrifice he must make to save the universe. The cornerstone hero of the Arrowverse is getting the send-off he deserves. For his outstanding work in the episode, Starling City, he has rightfully been named Readers’ Choice for Performer of the Month for October.

While this article has attempted to explore everything that made Stephen Amell’s performance special in this episode, there are moments that we may have missed. Share your thoughts on his work in the comments below.

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