This Arrow review contains spoilers.
Arrow Season 4, Episode 21
Arrowjust finaggled its nonsensical plot into an action-driven episode with tangible (albeit ridiculously high) stakes and it was totally unexpected. Sure, the flashbacks were dull as ever, but the writing, direction, and humor in most of this episode was Arrowcirca-season 1 or season 2 stuff. Which is to say: really great.
Maybe it was the whittling down to the original Team Arrow. Maybe it was the decision to film fight scenes in the light. Maybe the Arrow‘s writers room has acquired some kind of idol that they’ve been sacrificing marshmallow peeps to in exchange for a cohesive plot. Whatever the explanation, the ArrowI love is back. (You know, at least until next week?)
The Smoak family has a reunion.
This show was great in seasons 1 and 2 in part because of its solid character-driven family drama. Sure, the Queen family was a messed up bunch, but Moira, Thea, and Oliver (not to mention extended family Laurel and Tommy) loved each other despite their complicated dynamics. It’s something Arrowhas largely been missing since Moira was killed off in Season 2. (Still not over it.)
By bringing Felicity together with both of the parents to explore the familial dynamics, Arrowchanneled the Arrowof yesteryear to give us some relatable character interaction that has so been missing on this show since it started adding elements like evil wizards and red-eyes to Nanda Parbat.
Felicity has long been the most consistently entertaining part of this show, but her character has been bogged down in underdeveloped and/or convoluted relationship drama too often over the last two seasons. (I’m a fan of the Olicity dynamic, but it works so much better when it is integrated organically into the Team Arrow plot, rather than given its own secret son storylines to react to.) In tonight’s episode, Felicity was the star. She appreciated her mother, had #complicated feelings about her father, and saved the world. Unfortunately, that last one came at a high price…
Felicity just killed thousands of people.
To be fair, it wasn’t her fault. Faced with the decision to kill millions of people in Monument Point versus tens of thousands of people in a smaller town, she chose the later. (Apparently, putting it down further away from a settlement was not an option.) This ending was an effective way to up the stakes of the game — Team Arrow, even when working together, doesn’t always come away with a win — but give Felicity’s character a really interesting character moment.
Felicity is obviously devastated by this moment. She saved the world, but she couldn’t save everyone. No doubt this will affect her moving forward, perhaps spurring a reconciliation with Oliver and/or her father. Whatever happens, Arrowhasn’t been able to pull off this level of moral ambiguity and the theme of the burden of having countless lives in one superhero’s hands since the season 2 finale.
It’s telling that this moment belongs to Felicity. We’ve seen Oliver struggle with this kind of terrible responsibility before. It’s become redundant. But compassionate, empathetic, optimistic Felicity who is so used to working things out in the end comes up against the limits of even her own massive intelligence and skill? That’s new and fascinating. Sometimes, life isn’t fair — even for superheroes.
Plot-wise, this is a major moment for Darhk. With each death he claimed by launching that Russian missile, he gains more power. Based on the idol party he was having in the hidden room of Star City’s City Hall, it’s a whole lot of power. Oliver’s gonna need some bigger arrows.
Thea is still stuck Under the Dome.
Meanwhile, on what feels like a completely different show (the screen adaptation of a young adult dystopian novel, if I had to choose), Thea is still stuck with her brainwashed boyfriend. Given that Alex didn’t really have a personality before he got brainwashed, it’s kind of hard to tell anything is amiss. But we trust Thea. Like Felicity, she has been one of the most consistently entertaining parts of this show, even when it isn’t working, and much of that has to do with her fascinatingly antagonistic relationship with dear old dad.
The stuff between Thea and Malcolm shouldn’t work. It should feel redundant and melodramatic, but John Barrowman and Willa Holland just sell it so hard. “Every time my life starts to suck, you show up,” Thea tells Malcolm (who now has a bionic hand, if you were wondering). Thea is so incredibly self-aware of the futility of trying to reason with her father, and Malcolm is so gleefully self-aware of how terrible he is. It’s father/daughter magic.
The rest of the Under the Domestuff works less well. Lonnie Machin is back, seemingly having wandered into the secret dome underneath Star City just to get revenge on HIVE for kicking him out of the cool kids club. Thea manages to distract him by reminding him of the time she nearly burned off his face (you’d think that would have been the kind of thing seared into his brain), and they face off. Thea wins in the end, but not before Lonnie takes out Alex who is maybe dead? It’s actually kind of unclear. Wish I knew enough about his character to care either way.
Taiana is a zombie now?
Wow, do I not care about the flashbacks on this show. Just when you think you can’t care any less about what happened on Lian Yu that time zombies overran it, you do. Because we know that Oliver will make it back from the island alive and we haven’t been given enough character work to care about any of the other characters (sorry, Taiana), the stakes are non-existent.
Sure, the flashback sequences play some role in explaining how Darhk’s magical idol works, but it’s pretty much done its job at this point — and this is information we have gotten just as easily from the present-day action. Arrowhas floundered with its flashback storytelling in the past, but it has never been quite as irrelevant as it is now. As much as preferred this episode to last week’s installment in almost every way, not having to deal with the flashbacks in last week’s episode was downright liberating. Go with it, Arrow.
“She can do it. She’s the best.” Oliver’s unwavering faith in Felicity is adorable.
“His magic is powered by death.” Oh, Arrow. You’re lucky you’re pretty.
“And here I thoguht earthquake machine is as strange as it got.” There was so much season nostalgia in this episode — firstly, with all of the earthquake machine references and, secondly, with the Queen Consolidated break-in that was reminiscent of Team Arrow’s break-in into Merlyn Industries in season 1.
The direction in this episode was so good. From the fluid transitions to the fully-lit action sequences, Arrowhasn’t looked this good in awhile — and you better believe good direction makes plot holes and underdeveloped character motivation easier to forgive. (Just ask Sherlock.)
“The world is what’s insane. It is beyond saving. It needs a do-over. A reset.” Has Malcolm’s character really not changed since season 1?
“I love you, and that’s why I have faith that you’re gonna do the right thing.” Donna’s speech to Lance was sweet (and definitely reminiscent of similar speeches Felicity has given to Oliver), but why are we against Lance lying about having known Laurel was the Black Canary? If it gets him his job back, I say go for it. He’s not denouncing the Black Canary by signing that thing, right? Only lying about having known it was Laurel. Is there really anyone left in Star City who cares about this anyway? They did just evacuate city hall…
“Why would you have to protect her if she’s a superhero?” Donna Smoak, on Laurel. Yes!
“What’s that for?” “With any luck, you’ll never have to find out.”
“Oliver you’re the last person on Earth to lecture someone about lying to someone you love.” Diggle may be going through a period of self-doubt right now (after killing his brother), but he’s still 100 percent ready to call Oliver out on his hypocrisy.
“You’re better than me.” Oliver, to Diggle. OK, that’s sweet.
“This isn’t a reconciliation. This isn’t a reunion. This is you, helping me save the world.” Felicity, to her father.
“The son of a bitch. I’ve only been fired for 45 minutes and he’s already locked me out.” As much as the timing of Felicity’s firing sucked for Team Arrow, it’s not completely unjustified. There’s no way Felicity has time to run Palmer Technologies on top of everything she does for Team Arrow.
Did anyone else get Aliasflashbacks when Felicity drove in to save her dad?
“How long is this gonna take?” “Ideally, less time than it takes for Mr. Darhk to nuke the world.”
“Leading a dual life is why you lost her.” Does this mean Oliver will give up his mask… again? Or does it mean he might consider pulling a Tony Stark and telling the world who he is? Or maybe he will just try communicating with Felicity? …Yeah, probably one of the first two.
“It’s kind of like whack-a-mole. Except we don’t get a stuffed animal if we win.” Poor Felicity.