Warning: This contains spoilers.
Freed from the weight of having to set up the Legends of Tomorrow spin-off, this week’s episode of Arrow is something of a return to form, with everything pulling together into a cohesive and thoroughly enjoyable whole. The result is one of the best episodes of the current season, delivering plenty of terrific action and setting things up nicely for what’s to come.
Tellingly, there’s no Villain of the Week side-plot this week – instead, the various threads that have been bubbling away all season (whatever Damien Darhk is up to with H.I.V.E., Andy Diggle, Oliver’s Mayoral campaign, Thea’s bloodlust issues) all take centre stage, resulting in a number of significant and very promising developments.
The episode kicks off with Felicity and Ray analysing a tooth taken from a Ghost (i.e. one of Damien’s henchmen) and discovering that a company called Wolfman Biologics (presumably named after DC artist Marv Wolfman, rather than a nod to a future werewolf appearance) has a patent on a DNA scrambler that makes the H.I.V.E. operatives difficult to identify. While checking out Wolfman Biologics, Diggle knocks out a H.I.V.E. gunman and discovers that – GASP! – it’s his “dead” brother, Andy, meaning that Arrow has now brought no less than three people back from the dead in the course of seven episodes. (The resurrection hat-trick, as we believe it is already known in certain parts of the internets.)
Fair play to David Ramsey – he doesn’t get to showcase emotions like fear and shock very often and he sells the hell out of that Andy reveal moment. In fact, this ends up being a great episode for Diggle (and, by extension, Ramsey), as the revelation leads to some nicely handled character moments, first with Oliver, who can’t understand why Diggle is so ready to write his brother off, now that he knows he’s gone to the Dar(h)k Side – and, indeed, has possibly always been a wrong ‘un. In a revealing speech, Oliver tells Diggle that he needs to believe there is hope for Andy, that no matter how dark things get for him, the possibility of redemption exists. Obviously, Oliver is also talking about his own situation in the previous season and it seems to strike a chord with Diggle, leading to a lovely pay-off in the final act where he shows up late to the climactic fight with words echoing a line from the dock-side fight: “My brother needed me. The green one.”
Diggle also has a strong bonding scene with Laurel, who rightly points out that she knows everything there is to know about siblings coming back from the dead and turning out to be members of a group of evil assassins. Are we crazy or is there a hint of chemistry in that Diggle and Laurel scene? Obviously, Diggle is in love with his wife, as well as being the show’s moral centre, so they’re not about to go down that route, but it will be interesting to see if they get any more scenes together like this.
As for Andy Diggle, we don’t know much about him yet, but he doesn’t seem like a fun guy to have around, perhaps because Eugene Byrd is playing him with something of a perma-frown. (We weren’t even sure he was even going to speak until his scene in the cage towards the end. Also, in the sequence where they’re trying to infra-identify his face as they’re fighting H.I.V.E. goons, we were convinced that they were ALL going to turn out to be Andy Diggle and that Damien had amassed an army of Andy Diggle clones. They missed a trick there, if you ask us. We’re still not ruling it out, at least until we see a few more H.I.V.E. goon faces.)
It’s great to see Oliver’s Mayoral campaign finally dove-tailing with the Damien Darhk stuff this week too, with Damien casually trying to strong-arm Oliver into serving his interests when he becomes Mayor. Oliver actually considers it, intending to destroy Darhk’s organisation from the inside… until Diggle and Felicity point out how just how well that plan worked out for him last season with the League of Assassins. Oliver may well be someone who learns from his past mistakes, but he’s not always that quick off the mark. Still, at least he gets there in the end, declaring to Team Arrow that they’re going to fight Damien Darhk in the light, meaning that, as the superb closing moments indicate, he’ll be taking on Damien both as Oliver Queen and as the Green Arrow. That final moment is a terrific throwing-down-the-gauntlet moment that nicely sets up the impending mid-season break (after the Legends of Tomorrow crossover episode). Is Damien going to end up killing someone on Team Arrow, leading to that ‘Six months later’ graveyard scene we saw at the beginning of the season? Or is that just what they want us to think? Hmmm.
Another element which links nicely with the Damien Darhk stuff this week is Thea’s ongoing bloodlust issues. With typically terrible timing, Thea’s bloodlust rears up during a date with Oliver’s campaign manager, Alex (Parker Young), when she savagely beats up a sleazy guy who hit on her in the restaurant. A smartly judged moment, because it’s hard to imagine too many people in the audience not silently punching the air at Thea’s actions and thinking, “If only…” Arrow are obviously flirting with the idea of having Thea go the full Dexter Morgan, as Malcolm pops up again this week to try and persuade her to slake her bloodlust with a couple of local paedophiles. (Were they paedophiles? We’re pretty sure they were paedophiles. Might just have been the one, though.) However, the most important moment occurs towards the end, when Damien’s life-draining powers take away her bloodlust and appear to temporarily mess him up in the process, something that doesn’t go unnoticed by Thea and will no doubt be Important For Later. (There’s also an interesting hint of potential rivalry between Malcolm and Damien, as they’re clearly aware of each other – here’s hoping that gets explored in a future episode.)
As mentioned above, Ray Palmer is still around this week too, but he’s a sadder, gloomier, more thoughtful Ray Palmer than we’re used to seeing, concerned that he’d left no real mark on the world when everyone thought he had died – other than them renaming the city Star City in his honour. This is actually a welcome change and will give Brandon Routh something a bit more interesting to play when he heads over to Legends of Tomorrow in the new year. Not that Routh isn’t wonderful at playing peppy, boyish enthusiasm and goofiness, but there’s such a thing as over-doing it. Anyway, Ray also suits up and punches out a few H.I.V.E. goons for old times’ sake, although it’s a shame his shrinking powers aren’t a proper thing yet.
Which brings us to the fight scenes, which are absolutely fantastic this week, perhaps because the episode is directed by James Banford, the show’s fight and stunt co-ordinator since Season 1. From shot choices to editing to choreography, the action is just all-around terrific, with special mention going to the seemingly-in-one-take punch-up between Thea and Andy that takes them through a room, into a corridor, in and out of an elevator and into another room. (We also loved that shot of Laurel jumping off a roof, with the camera following her down as she lands.) The show’s newfound fondness for single-shot set pieces unencumbered by choppy editing is a real treat – long may it continue.
Meanwhile, on Flashback Island… okay, so not everything was great this week. The Lian Yu sequences had Oliver whipping Conklin at Reiter’s request and not telling Rescued Slave Lady (who’s still hiding out in that cave) that he killed her brother. Oh, and Reiter busted out some sort of magical plant that can tell if you’re lying or something.
Lian Yu shenanigans aside, this is Arrow firing on all cylinders, with all the various plot strands coming together in intriguing fashion, leaving things looking very optimistic for future episodes. Speaking of which, Arrow is on a break next week, but will return with the long-awaited Legends of Tomorrow crossover, in conjunction with The Flash.
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.