Warning: This contains spoilers.
Although it’s been a definite improvement over the doom and gloom of Season 3, this season of Arrow has often struggled to maintain the new, improved (and essentially lifted from The Flash) lightness of tone that the early episodes, and particularly the season opener, seemed to promise. This week, in borrowing a Flash villain with connections to Felicity, the show finally gives us an episode that’s fun, campy and full of funny lines and great character moments, resulting in perhaps the season’s best episode to date.
The Flash villain in question is hacker-slash-robot-bee-commander Brie Larvan (Emily Kinney), aka The Bug-Eyed Bandit. She breaks out of prison and makes a bee-line (sorry) for Palmer Tech, intending to steal Felicity’s spine-restoring implant thingy (which is set to make Palmer Tech a very important company indeed) by physically taking it out of her, if necessary. One of the first things she does is surround Palmer Tech with an army of robot bees (“An army of robot bees. This is my life now”, deadpans Quentin), stranding Felicity, Thea and a visiting Donna inside the building – and leaving Oliver, Diggle, Quentin, Laurel and a subbing-for-Felicity Curtis to try and figure out a way to break in, disable the robot bee army and rescue them.
Curtis has been a welcome presence this season, but he’s often felt under-used, so it’s enormous fun to see him finally joining Team Arrow, even if he is suffering from a terrible head cold at the time. He proves an invaluable addition, whether geeking out at getting to work with the Green Arrow (“Can I call you G.A,?”), tossing off Felicity-like one-liners and pop culture references (“I’m sorry – when I get nervous, I make pop culture references”), coming up with ingenious solutions (tweaking Laurel’s Canary Cry so it can destroy the robot bees that are – ewwww – multiplying inside Oliver) or shrieking in fear while he and Quentin are being chased around the Arrow Cave by a robot bee. Happily, Echo Kellum has been confirmed as a season regular for Season 5, so it looks like a. Felicity won’t be returning to Team Arrow anytime soon, and b. we’ll be seeing a lot more of Curtis in the future, hopefully with his Mr. Terrific identity firmly in place.
The straight-up campiness of Brie and her bees proves contagious, leading to pretty much every character getting in a bee-related pun of some kind, ranging from the sublime to the downright terrible (samples include: “You’ll have to excuse my little friends. Their bee-havior can be a-pollen some of the time”; “Lay down, bee-yotch!”; and Curtis’ inspired Bea Arthur gag). The only weird thing is that no-one makes a bee-related gag about H.I.V.E. – missed opportunity there, guys. Even more enjoyable than the puns themselves is the way the characters acknowledge their attitudes towards making them, often adding a comment like “Too on the nose?” or “Is it too soon for bee puns?”. This works particularly well in the cases of characters like Thea, Diggle and Oliver, to whom puns don’t come naturally and their awkwardness in the delivery makes it that much funnier.
It’s not all about puns, though – the show also manages to deliver some pretty decent action sequences, including an opening four-way training session between Oliver, Thea, Laurel and Diggle and a great sequence, where Oliver takes on an invulnerable robot sentinel, composed entirely of bees. The episode also gets great mileage out of having Thea, Donna and Felicity teaming up and sneaking around inside the Palmer Tech building, Die-Hard-style, occasioning producing yet another great line from Momma Smoak: “I’m going to have to switch to flats – these assaults are weekly!”
Similarly, though the show largely takes a break from last week’s relationship angst, it still manages to move the general situation forward in ways that feel organic, rather than the out-and-out soap operatics of previous episodes. This is achieved by having Laurel deliver a pep talk to Oliver, in a really nice scene that seems to tease the possibility of a rekindling chemistry between the two, perhaps laying the groundwork for their comics-ordained Green Arrow / Black Canary romance (as opposed to the Oliver / Laurel relationship they’ve already had) somewhere down the line. At any rate, it’s great writing for Laurel (for once), who tells Oliver the honest truth from a position of genuine affection, without judgement.
This is balanced by similar scenes between Felicity and Thea, where Speedy asks her if she misses being a part of Team Arrow and she explains that she was never in it for the rush of super-heroism, it was more that she wanted to help people, something she realises she can do from her position as CEO of Palmer Tech. So, yes, it looks like we won’t be seeing Felicity in the Arrow Cave again anytime soon and I’m pretty much okay with that, as she’s a much more interesting character when she isn’t mooning over (or firing sarcastic barbs at) Oliver.
One of the reasons this episode works so well is that everyone is focussed on the same goal, with the action centring on Palmer Tech, even though Team Arrow is split into two groups (or three, with Quentin and Curtis back in the Arrow Cave). However, the show still finds time to check in on what Damien is up to and that doesn’t disappoint either, with a powerless-but-still-seemingly-unflappable Darhk fending off prison attacks and gaining a new creepy-looking henchman who has his lips sewn together (“Did you sew that yourself or do you have some kind of lip-sewing guy?”). We also get more of Malcolm doing whatever Malcolm is up to, with him magically turning up at the prison (as he says, they don’t call him The Magician for nothing) and pointing out to Darhk that the head honchos at H.I.V.E. aren’t happy with his activities so far (“Something to do with hocus and pocus and killing fellow members when you get miffed”). This leads to a rather underwhelming cliff-hanger, where Damien assures Malcolm that it’s all fine, he has an ace up his sleeve and that ace is revealed to be Andy Diggle, who, shock, horror, turns out to be evil after all. Is this a fake-out? Maybe, maybe not. To be honest, it’s hard to care all that much about Andy Diggle, as he always seems like something of an afterthought, as evidenced by all those weeks Team Arrow left him in that secret prison without even mentioning it.
Meanwhile, on Flashback Island, Reiter gets his hands on the idol and charges up his mystical energy by killing a minion and absorbing their life force. This, in turn, allows him to survive being shot multiple times in the chest by Taiana. So, basically, the idol is bad news, yeah? After that, Oliver and Taiana set about freeing all the prisoners on Lian Yu, which involves murdering lots of minions without batting an eyelid, because the flashbacks are also supposed to be taking Oliver to the point where he’s the hard-edged-bad-guy-murdering dude he was when he first returned from the island.
The show-runners would do well to include more episodes like this next season. Arrow doesn’t need to be (and shouldn’t be) The Flash all the time, but taking a leaf out of the Scarlet Speedster’s playbook every now and then is no bad thing.
– I very much enjoyed the team’s amusement at Oliver making Harry Potter references: “You can say her name – she’s not Voldemort…” / “I’m not immune to pop culture. I’ve read a few of the Harry Potter books” / “Really? I was going to bet Thea that you have just seen the movies” / “There were movies?”
– Quentin was on typically great form this week too, particularly when making fun of Curtis for screaming at the bee. I also liked him getting in on the pop culture reference action: “Like they did in Independence Day… what, I can’t watch movies, too?”
– It wasn’t explicitly linked to the bee puns, but it was still amusing to count the number of times somebody said the episode title, Beacon of Hope, this week (shame there was no “con”, otherwise “bee-con” would have worked a treat), almost as if they’d had a bet among themselves over who could say it the most.
Arrow: Season 4 is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.
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Photo: Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc.