This review contains spoilers.
4.22 Lost In The Flood
In the season’s penultimate episode of Arrow, Oliver returns to where we first found him at the beginning of season 4: the suburbs. Unlike Felicity and Oliver’s “normal” life in a pleasant-enough surburban area filled with annoying, but ultimately well-meaning neighbors, Darhk’s dystopia dome is filled with people who are cool with the world ending as long as they get to hang out in a weird, safe neighborhood where it is always daytime and everyone has to wear terrible jumpsuits. (There’s probably a white flight allegory to be gleaned here, but I’m not sure if Arrow is aware of it.)
Compared to the other citizens of dystopia dome, Thea is less cool with this set-up (an existence without crop tops is no existence at all), which forces her concerned father to brainwash her using the same happy pills Ruve forced on the apparently dearly departed Alex. (R.I.P., Alex, we hardly knew thee. Seriously, you never got any character development.) For those keeping track at home, this is the second time Malcolm Merlyn has drugged Thea and asked her to kill someone she loves.
This time, her target is Oliver, who breaks into the dome with Diggle in order to find and rescue his sister. Guys, can I say that I am so over the Thea Gets Brainwashed subplot? In fact, I have never been under it. Using the brainwashing card to create character motivation is, with a few exceptions, a lazy storytelling choice. It’s a boring way to have two characters who would normally never turn against one another, become suddenly at odds. It’s much more interesting when characters clash for completely organic, well-developed reasons. #NarrativeGoals
Despite my lack of interest in the Thea Gets Brainwashed (Again) subplot, it did lead to one of my favorite Arrow fight sequences in recent memory, which saw Diggle and Oliver racing through the well-manicured lawns of suburbia, jumping and twisting and aiming and firing as they went. This is the second episode in a row that has brought an Arrow stunt sequence out of the shadows and into the light, and it is so goddamn refreshing. I think the Arrow production team might feel the same way, as the direction on said sequence was innovative, energizing, and filled with unexpected, but not confusing shots. Well done, show.
While on the search for Brainwashed!Thea, Diggle and Oliver find themselves hiding in one of the homes of a dystopian dome family. Unlike some of the population of the dystopia dome, this family hasn’t popped the happy pills. No, they believe in the Darhk’s cause wholeheartedly. The patriarch’s explanation? They’re sick of people promising to save the city, only to see the city fall further into chaos and disrepair. This family sees Ruve and Damien Darhk’s promises of a new world built on the rubble of the old as a promise they can believe in.
Um, what? There’s a lot of room between thinking Star City is a crap place to live and being cool with blowing up the world to start over. Like, have you thought about possibly relocating? I hear Coast City has good pizza. And, yeah, Central City might currently be suffering a metapocalypse, but at least they get sunlight there. If none of those options appeal to you, go to a city council meeting or build a community center. Global extermination is not the answer, friend.
This family’s logic might be a bit easier to accept if Arrow had done a bit better job depicting the anonymous masses of Star City earlier in the season. Let’s face it: Star City hasn’t felt like a real place since season 2, back when it was still called Starling City. This is particularly sad because Arrow started out as a show that did a pretty good job grounding its superhero action in a tangible setting.
Starling City with its Queen Consolidated and its Glades and its Queen mansion looming august on the outskirts felt like a city we could visit. It operated using much of the same logic of the real world, albeit heightened in the way that TV melodrama so often is. Star City is a different story. It is dark and its only inhabitants are superheroes or supervillains and it has zero chain coffee places, as far as I can tell. A city without a coffee chain? Completely unrelatable.
But I digress. The worst part of the dystopia dome man’s speech is that Oliver started to wonder if Darhk might be right. “The world is coming apart, just like Star City. It has worse than it has ever been,” Oliver says to Diggle. Diggle, awesomely, responds: “That’s because Darhk has spent the last year trying to kill it.” Diggle for Star City Mayor. There, I said it. Besides, I heard there might be a mayoral opening…
Yeah, that was a pretty gauche way to lead into discussing Ruve Adams’ death, but bloggers gonna blog. Ruve was killed by Lonnie Machin as part of his campaign to destroy the dystopia dome because of that time Darhk kicked him out of H.I.V.E. Yes, his revenge plan is a little out-of-the-blue given that we didn’t see him for most of the season (until last week), but I have to respect a villain who is honest about the irrationability of his motivations. As he sarcastically tells Ruve: “I’m sorry, did I leave you with the impression that I’m a rationale guy?”
Lonnie kills Ruve (in a similar way to Darhk killing Laurel, might I add), and blows up the dystopia dome. Oliver, Diggle, Thea (who has since fought against her brainwashing — because that’s apparently a thing that’s possible) make it out alive, with Darhk’s daughter. Malcolm Merlyn also leads a group of dystopia domers out before the massive implosion.
The implosion of the dome should be a big moment. After all, this is what Darhk has been building towards all season — his Genesis. Hundreds of people died, including Ruve, and an entire section of The Glades was leveled. (Poor Glades. Can’t catch a break.) Unfortunately, it wasn’t as effective as it should have been. Too often, TV shows seem to prioritize the twist over the slow-build. Perhaps if Arrow had explained Darhk’s plan earlier in the season, given the audience some dramatic irony from the show’s heroes, then we would have cared when the dome was destroyed.
Instead, this was a set-piece that was randomly introduced only a few episodes ago, only to be gone just as quickly. Theoretically, it’s sad that all those people died. Emotionally, I have no connection to what just happened. Even when it comes to Ruve, her relationship with her husband and child was so shrouded in mystery, that I don’t understand what this loss means to them. I mean, yeah, it means that Darhk is apparently going to blow up the world, but he was already going to do that, so…
The only difference is, now, Darhk is going to destroy all of humanity (including his own daughter) to satisfy his thirst for vengeance. That’s a completely different motivation than what Genesis originally represented. Wanting to destroy most of humanity to start over again with a “better” humanity comes from a different place than wanting to destroy humanity, full stop. This lack of character clarity makes Darhk a weaker villain than he needs to be.
To destroy the world, Darhk is going to need a hacker. You see, his previous hacker (Felicity’s ex-boyfriend, Cooper, who randomly returned for this episode) failed, so Dahrk goes to the best hacker in town: Felicity. This is a more effective cliffhanger for the more effective storyline that was Felicity’s family drama, but I’m not sure what Darhk’s coercion is going to look like here: Destroy humanity or I will kill your loved ones? Fulfilling his evil plan will end in the same result.
Felicity’s family drama in the last few episodes has been a welcome surprise for this show. It has felt fresh in a way that much of the interpersonal drama on this show hasn’t for a long time — reminiscent of the complicated family dynamics of the Queens back in season 1 and 2. We learn a bit more about the circumstances involving Noah’s supposed abandonment of Donna and Felicity when Felicity was young. Apparently, it wasn’t Noah who left so much as Donna who forced him to lead.
Though this fills in a bit of the mystery of Noah, it still seems like Felicity’s parents are keeping something big from her (and us). Donna convinces Noah to leave, insisting that he knows she’ll be safer without him there. This seems a silly argument to be making only minutes after Noah and Felicity saved the world together. What is the piece of the Smoak family puzzle we’re missing?
Meanwhile, on the flashbacks, Taiana turns into a zombie. You’d think this would have been an affecting moment, but, given that Taiana didn’t really have any notable character traits before becoming a serial-killing zombie, it’s hard to drudge up an opinion on this one. I guess I could be into Taiana and Ryder fighting for the idol? Arrow‘s never done a zombie v. zombie fight on this show before — unless you count anyone who has been resurrected from the dead or almost-dead, in which case, almost every fight on this show involves zombies.
We did get a mention of Taiana’s hometown in Russia, which is where Oliver will presumably be heading for next season’s flashbacks. Something to look forward to? We know he has to end up back on Lian Yu with a great big bushy beard before the end of season 5, if Arrow wants to catch back up to the season 1 present-day storyline. Personally, I’d be cool with Arrow eschewing the flashbacks next season in favor of giving that story time to present-day stuff. Every once in a while, we can just do a quick 30-second flashback to Oliver picking up a razor, staring at his increasingly-hairy face in the mirror, then putting it down. You can have that one for free, Arrow.
UK viewers: Arrow season 4B currently airs on Wednesdays on Sky One. Caroline Preece is away.