This Arrow review contains spoilers.
Arrow Season 4, Episode 20
Remember when Arrowhad some system of internal narrative logic? Sure, it was a ridiculous internal logic predicated on the belief that Oliver’s hood would stay up without the use of either bobby pins or some kind of adhesive, but the show committed and stayed consistent in its ridiculousness.
Four seasons later, that internal narrative logic has been eviscerated. It didn’t happen over night, and it wasn’t entirely Arrow‘s fault. This is what happens when a show is burdened with launching not one, but two spin-off shows — shows that have their own systems of internal narrative logic that directly clash with the gritty (albeit ab-focused) realism that made Arrowso watchable in its first and second seasons.
First, there was The Flash, and Arrow‘s internal logic stretched a little thinner as metahumans broke the rules of reality as both we and the people of Starling City knew it. Then, Sara returned from the dead, only to join a crew of time-traveling fools. Finally, Arrowdecided to embrace “mysticism” as a them this season, killing any grip this show once had on its initial internal logic.
Perhaps this fall from logical grace could have been buffered by consistent, cleverly-rendered characterization. But, as was demonstrated in the Diggle brother drama in tonight’s episode, these characters are all over the place. Or, more accurately, their motivations are all too often ill-defined.
Diggle’s cold-blooded murder of his little brother should have been a heartbreaking, tragic moment — and David Ramsey did a great job selling it — but no degree of excellent acting could make up for the fact that we never really got to know Andy’s character. Before killing him, Diggle mentions Andy’s wife and son, but we haven’t seen them for seasons. Why was Andy so evil? Did he want Diggle to kill him? If Arrowhad defined Andy’s character in any way, perhaps this tragic end would have meant a bit more.
Of course, it does mean something for Diggle’s character — because we now him from a time when this show clearly articulated where its characters were coming from. And the fact that he shot an unarmed man — nonetheless his own brother — is so far from the man we have come to know. Sure, Diggle is a person who will do almost anything to protect his family, but he is also the man who sees the best in Oliver, even when Oliver doesn’t see the best in himself.
It’s a jarring moment for a show that goes so far out of its way to keep its main character from killing anyone. There are people Team Arrow probably should have killed — Malcolm Merlyn at the top of the list. I’m not sure if I think Andy Diggle is one of them. Then again, I’m still not sure what Andy Diggle’s deal was, so it’s hard to have a clear perspective on this plot twist.
While Diggle spent much of this episode alternating visiting his family in their “mobile safe house” and playing hide and seek (with guns) with Andy, Felicity and Oliver recreated one of their first dates. OK, actually they went to some random casino to meet some random shaman who Constantine claimed could help Oliver learn the magic necessary to defeat Darhk. But it was definitely reminiscent of the season 1 episode when Felicity went undercover at a Starling City casino to get information about Oliver’s disappearance. Ah, good times.
The shaman is only kind of helpful. She throws some dark magic at Oliver to see if he has enough goodness in him to fight it off versus fuel it… and he fails. Rather than taking the obvious route — i.e. teaching Felicity Smoak, Beacon of Light, how to wield this magic (I guess she needs her own magic tattoo to do this?) — Oliver and Felicity just head back to Star City.
Oliver arrives just in time to save Lyla from Darhk’s evil clutches, and Oliver manages to somehow repel Darhk’s magic (his eyeballs light up and everything) by thinking all of his friends and the goodness they represent. So, I guess Oliver knows magic now? It’s all pretty easy and it’s unclear why Oliver was able to do this when, five minutes ago, he could not — other than the fact that Felicity gave him a pep talk. And, sure, it was a great peptalk (she gives great pep talks), but I like my character growth a little more hard-won.
Meanwhile, Thea was pretty much in her own show — an episode of The Twilight Zone,specifically. Seemingly on vacation with her boyfriend we totally don’t know even though he has been on this show for most of the season, Alex, Thea slowly begins to realize that something is off about the weird surburb Alex decided to bring them to relax. It’s all very “The Yellow Wallpaper.”
It turns out Thea is stuck within her very own version of the Truman Show dome (you know, without the cameras… probably), one of the chosen ones who will get to ride out the apocalypse Darhk is planning. (I guess this was one of Alex’s job perks for joining Ruve Adam’s team: dental, 401k, and two spots in our luxury bomb shelter community.) It’s kind of a fun twist, but totally at odds with everything else that’s going on in this disparate, confusing episode.
That’s right, folks: Darhk’s master plan is to blow up the entire world, apparently, in order to start again with only his chosen few. As with Andy Diggle, it’s still unclear why Darhk is doing anything that he’s doing. Malcolm Merlyn’s season 1 plan to destroy The Glades using an earthquake machine was ludicrous, but we knew why he was doing it: Because some random killed his wife while she was leaving her job in The Glades. Merlyn decided all poor people were evil, and thought it would be better to get rid of all of them. This was not only explained, but has some real-world comparisons.
Darhk just wanting to blow up the world because does not. I guess some people just want to watch the world burn? And some shows tear down their own internal narrative logic and have trouble building something new in its place. Should have planned ahead with an underground dome, Arrow. Should have planned ahead…
From the quiver:
“Oliver is leaving tonight on some magical mystery tour.” — Diggle’s description of Felicity and Oliver’s road trip, which ends up being fairly accurate.
“Just because we’re not together doesn’t mean you have to do this alone.” — Felicity
“I’m not just a cut-throat politcal operative. I contain multituldes.” I really want to like you, Alex, but you don’t have a character. This line may have been unintentionally meta.
“Tell John Constantine he still owes me money.” Esrin Fortuna was actually a lot of fun. Too bad she was shoehorned into such an uneven episode.
“The Romans said the same thing about Jesus.” — Andy Diggle, trying to defend Darhk. Um, yeah, but Jesus fed poor people and cured the sick. Darhk kidnaps people for fun.
“Yes Lian Yu is a place of nexus. Just like your home.” It was pretty nice not to have flashbacks in this episode.
“We mortals like to stay out of the affairs of men.” “Unless someone owes you money.”
“That tattoo Constantine gave you does many things.” This line.
“Right now, you are not acting like the man I married. You’re acting like the man I divorced.” Burn.
“Every time you face a setback, you throw yourself a pity party.” Felicity’s not wrong here.
“You are not perfect. None of us are. The good thing is all of us can change.”
“He was never gonna back off Oliver.” — David Ramsey broke my heart with the delivery of this line. Both he and Amell were so good in this short post-murder vignette.
“I don’t mean to apply logic to a bad guy’s plot here…” Oh, Felicity, it’s like you’re watching this show with us.