Arrow: Blood Debts Review

Oliver dabbles with the dark side (again) in the Arrow midseason premiere.

This review contains Arrow spoilers.

Arrow Season 4, Episode 10

How far is too far when seeking truth, justice, and the American way? (Or, you know, the Arrow version of that — i.e. information, vengeance, and the vigilante way.) Arrowloves asking this question, which is probably why it brought it back for “Blood Debts,” its midseason premiere. Because there is nothing like a midseason premiere to hammer home the themes of your show — no matter how many times you’ve explored them before.

“Blood Debts” had an unexpected villain-of-the-week structure for a midseason premiere wrapping up a major cliffhanger. This resulted in a mediocre episode that picked up in its second half with some well-timed Olicity moments, the appearance of Damien Darhk (and his villainous wife), and some more clues about who is in that damn grave…

Oliver and Thea battle their inner demons.

Thematically, much of this episode was centered around Oliver and Thea battling their inner demons as they face off against Anarky. For Oliver, his bloodlust is very much fueled by his fear of losing Felicity. For Thea, her bloodlust is still vaguely fueled by her resurrection from the Lazarus Pit.

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If this inner struggle sounds familiar, it’s because Arrow tends to revert to this theme in tentpole episodes. It is a safe, yet reliable play. After all, this show has been constructed around the question of Oliver’s humanity after the crucible that was his five years away.

His relapse works a bit better than Thea’s because it is tied to the very immediate stress of Felicity being in a hospital bed. It’s not hard to believe that Oliver would choose to beat up criminals under the guise of helping Felicity rather than be there for her as an emotional support. Oliver is vastly more comfortable with one of these things than he is with the other. Guys, his emotional intelligence is not high. This is why he needs Felicity (and Diggle).

Thea’s own struggle worked less well for me. This isn’t just a problem with this specific episode. It’s a problem with Thea’s larger season arc, which has been unfocused and ill-defined. I’m all for watching Thea suffer through side effects of her resurrection, but, thus far, Arrowseems afraid to commit. Remember when she briefly had amnesia after coming out of the Lazarus Pit? Or when she thought Oliver was still dead and called Malcolm Merlyn dad? 

I’m all for committing to the idea that the major long-term effect of the Lazarus Pit is bloodlust, but I’m ready to see Thea fall off the deep end. Or at least steadily get worse. Instead, Thea’s mood re: burning people alive seems to randomly change from episode to episode and that’s not working for me. This character deserves better, especially after being a bright light of character development in season 3.

Anarky is back.

Welcome back, Anarky. I would say that I missed you, but your introduction earlier this season in “The Candidate” didn’t leave much of an impression. Anarky actually has much more to do here, and I actually really enjoyed his exasperate confusion over Team Arrow’s confused stance on whether or not they actually wanted to lock him up or not. His scarring, of course, was ridiculous — but exactly what you expect from a CW show trying to mangle the beautiful countenances of its actors. (See also: Beauty and the Beast.)

I’m not sure why Anarky was so angry with Damien Darhk and seemed cool with Thea. One of them decided not to induct him into his evil club. The other set him on fire. Buy, hey, to each his own. Lonnie doesn’t seem particularly stable.

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We finally get to spend more time with Mrs. Darhk.

Forget Damien Darhk; it’s his wife we have to worry about. Though Darhk follows some twisted code of honor when it comes to killing his enemies, Mrs. Darhk has no such qualms about killing someone who just saved her family. It makes me miss Moira Queen.

Darhk’s agenda is still problematically undefined for a show that once devoted two seasons of flashbacks to explaining (and making us care) why Slade Wilson wanted to kill everything Oliver ever loved. We do now know that Darhk’s algae project is something called Genesis, and that it will more or less wipe out the entire world… But why?

Feel free to give Damien Darhk his own flashbacks, Arrow.I would much rather devote that time to giving the Big Bad some context than whatever it is Arrowhas been doing with its flashbacks this season.

Meanwhile, on an island…

Yep, we’re still doing this flashback thing. This episode’s central tension relied on us believing that Oliver would kill himself to save Taiana. Obviously, we know that Oliver will not kill himself, and we don’t care enough about the other characters standing around watching all of this to be invested in the threat at all.

The flashbacks did get minutely more interested when Conklin agreed to spare both Oliver and Taiana’s lives because of the mystical tattoo Constantine put on Ollie’s stomach earlier this season. Arrowis really playing the slow burn with this Island Flashback Storyline, huh? I will say this: the boring vagueness of Conklin’s island operation makes Darhk’s algae operation seem like a meticulously-explained plan.

Felicity is going to be OK.

Surprise! Felicity is not going to be killed off Arrow.(Though she is paralyzed, Oracle-style.) For those of you who had Certain Death in the betting pool, I don’t know what to say. There’s no way this show would ever willingly kill off Felicity. And, in an episode like this, it’s easy to see why…

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Not having Felicity to lighten up Team Arrow’s missions made everything feel that much darker. It was early season 1 levels of dark — i.e. Oliver gruffly storming in and out of the lair, torturing people, not dealing with any of his emotions, and not explaining to anyone else what he was doing. Fewer voiceovers, though. (Remember the voiceovers?)

As a result, the scenes between Oliver and Felicity in the hospital felt like some much-earned therapy. Oliver is a different (much more likeable) person when he is talking with his lady love. His face contorts into different, less grumbly expressions. Best of all, the show allows Oliver some level of self-awareness whilst basking in the glow of Felicity’s presence, and it makes him about a million times more relatable as a protagonist. It’s not a Felicity-unrelated coincidence the second half of this episode was better than the first.

Another peek into the future timeline.

Arrow continues to adopt the less is more strategy when it comes to teasing its future storyline. We are now only four months away from the events that lead to one of Oliver’s loved ones dying, and we can safely cross Felicity’s name off the list. (No one really thought she would die, right?)

Whoever it is, Felicity seems just as upset and angry as Oliver about the deceased. It could be her mother, who has been subtly integrated into the narrative this season, but would Oliver really visit the grave by himself if that were the case? My money is on a Lance — Laurel or Quentin. 

Could the secret of the grave lie with the Diggle brothers?

Perhaps even more importantly than the question of who is in the grave is the question of who put him or her there. Sure, it’s probably Damien Darhk — and that’s who we’ve been led to believe it is — but no one has out and said his name. Could Oliver and Felicity be referring to someone other than the season’s most obvious villain? Could it be Diggle in the grave (please no) put there by his own brother?

As much as I really, really don’t want to see Diggle written off the show (death is negotiable on Arrow, right?), I am much more interested in this scenario — i.e. Diggle’s death or apparent death — than any of the others. It would explain why Oliver and Felicity in particular are upset enough about the death to vow vengeance. It would also work thematically with this episode, in which we saw how upset Diggle was about Felicity’s injuries and how far he was willing to go to find Darhk. Could this all have been a parallel to how Felicity and Oliver are in the flash-forward? Arrow is not unaware of the effect of Original Team Arrow, you know?

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We also finally saw Diggle and his brother start to reconnect in this episode, though Andy still seems loyal to the HIVE cause. Could Andy become the Big Bad for season 5? Again, I don’t want to see Diggle permanently written off of the show, but it would be nice to have a villain with a personal connection to our heroes again. As enigmatic as Damien Darhk is, his vague plan to reset humanity is nowhere near as compelling as Slade’s mirakuru-fueled vendetta against Oliver for Shado’s death.

Whatever the answer to these speculatory question, the fact remains that the scene of Diggle and Andy playing cards? Best scene of the episode. Zero exposition. Total heart. The first time, since that season 3 flashback in “The Return” that I have believed these two as brothers.


2.5 out of 5