Arrow: A.W.O.L. Review

Arrow's long-overdue focus on the Diggle family distracted from an unfortunate hallucination subplot in "A.W.O.L."

This Arrow review contains spoilers.

Arrow Season 4, Episode 11

Felicity hallucinations aside, tonight’s episode is the most refreshing Arrowhas been in a while, and it did it all by keeping the A plot’s focus on one character: John Diggle. As an entire episode, “A.W.O.L.” had its strengths (Diggles) and weakness (flashbacks, hallucinations), but it also felt focused in a way this show hasn’t been pulling off as often in recent seasons. 

An ode to John Diggle.

If Felicity is the unwavering heart of Team Arrow, then Diggle is the steadfast moral compass. It might be annoying how good and right he is all of the time, if he wasn’t so rare in the Arrow world to have a character who sees himself, his family and friends, and his place in the world so clearly. (Though, how great was it that pretty much every character called Oliver on his tendency to blame himself for things outside of his control?)

In a universe that get increadingly outlandish with each spinoff, Diggle is that relatable character who is still a little wigged out by Barry’s powers. On a team where members are comfortably delegated into their roles, he is the guy who actually listens when Felicity rambles on about jerryrigging telecommunications systems in the field. And on a show whose protagonist hasn’t always been so good at the family-ing, he is the kind of partner, friend, and sibling Oliver has been working towards since season 1. 

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The Diggle bros takes down Shadowspire (for now).

“A.W.O.L.” brought us the long-overdue exploration of the relationship between John and Andy Diggle and, while the flashbacks didn’t bring us much new information about their brother-ship, it was just nice to see the show addressing it in any real way (and, you know, to not be on Lian Yu). 

After weeks (months?) locked inside of a cage in the Arrow lair, Andy finally manages to convince Diggle to let him out when he offers information about Shadowspire, a war-profitterring paramilitary organization he has been involved with since his time as a soldier in the Middle East. The first half of this storyline dragged a bit, as Diggle and Andy continued the same ambiguous banter about their estranged relationship and whether or not Andy can be trusted. But the second half made up for it by giving us some actual development in the Diggle/Diggle dynamic.

I’m talking, of course, about the fact that this week’s episode was the first time Andy actually made the argument that he could (and would) help Team Arrow, versus complaining about John being judgey. It was an abrupt transition. Perhaps it was the threat to Lyla’s life that finally made Andy help out the good guys, but I would have liked to see this transition from Annoyed Prisoner to Helpful Brother done a bit more smoothly.

Still, I’d be lying if I said Andy’s introduction to Baby Sara and Diggle’s “Welcome home” at the end of the episode didn’t make me feel things.

Amanda Waller is dead — or so it seems.

Joiner killing Waller was the first time in a long time that this show has all-out surprised me with a death. Arrow used to be a bit better at killing off tangential-yet-recurring characters in unexpected ways — i.e. Shado. Waller’s (apparent) death certainly clears the way for Lyla or someone more nefarious to take over ARGUS, but, as Arrow has had a hard time clarifying the potential threat the secret organization pressents, the effects of Waller’s death are hard to predict at this point.

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Though it was nice to be genuinely surprised by Waller’s death (and certainly lent more stakes to Joiner’s hostage-taking), I’m sorry that Arrownever took full advantage of Amanda Waller’s character. The show always flirted with the idea of making Waller’s presence a full-on villainous one, but never really pulled the trigger on what could have been a more complicated and totally terrifying Big Bad.

(Kudos to Felicity to bringing up the time Waller planned on blowing Starling City up to take out Slade’s mirakuru soldiers and just being generally unimpressed with Lyla and Oliver’s toast to the usually terrible woman.)

Let’s forget the hallucination storyline ever happened.

I can see what Arrowwas trying to do here, and the end result of having Felicity let go of her past and her anger over her injury still managed to be a therapeutic one, but the Felicity Hallucination Storyline was both silly and rushed in its execution. As resilient as Felicity is, having her seemingly deal with the transition into her new life over the course of an episode felt cheap. (Even if Oliver, who is back in Best Boyfriend Mode, has vowed to scour the multiverse for a way to reverse Felicity’s paralysis. And that dude’s determined — you know he will probably manage it.)

Regardless of how you feel about Goth Felicity (personally, I thought she seemed principled, cool, and desperate to save the world in last season’s flashback), she is a character-version we don’t really know. Therefore, her appearance as a contrast to present-day Felicity didn’t really work. And it’s tough to cut this weird hallucination storyline some slack based on intent when we’re talking about a show that has flashbacks, for better or worse, built into its very structure.

Why not give Felicity the flashbacks this episode and give the Diggle brothers their own flashback-centric episode? Or, better yet, allow Andy and John’s relationship to be fully explored in the present? As fun as it was to see the Diggle bros working together in that flashback, it didn’t give us any new information about their relationship. (It only reaffirmed the already-established fact that the Diggle brothers’ relationship is 50 percent talking about the army and 50 percent talking about blackjack.) 

Instead, the flashback felt shoehorned into the episode mostly on the merits of its final moments, which connected Shadowspire to Reiter and Lian Yu. As much as I devour any and all breadcrumbs that connect the Lian Yu storyline to the Starling City storyline and, therefore, make the flashbacks at all relevant, this is still a waste of screen time. 

A break from the search for Damien Dahrk.

Damien Darhk got a few name-drops in this episode, but Team Arrow’s quest to find him and take him down was put on the back burner in light of other problems. Overall, “A.W.O.L.” did a good job of distracting us from this larger story arc, while still reiterating that these characters haven’t forgotten about their larger mission.

Though the Felicity Hallucination Storyline was trying, it resulted in Felicity vowing Team Arrow would find Darhk “not out of anger or regret or vengeance. We’re going to stop him because that’s what we do.” Felicity basically just solved the central thematic tension of this show. Are you taking notes, Oliver?

Who am I kidding? John Diggle is the one really paying attention to Felicity’s rambles. Exhibit A: “I have a friend who’s into this kind of stuff. Occasionally, I listen to her.” Petition to give the Diggle/Felicity dynamic more screen time? I know, I’m a demanding viewer, but I do it because I love you, Arrow.

Rating:

3.5 out of 5