Arrow season 4 episode 21 review: Monument Point

Arrow delivers an action-packed, high-stakes hour by balancing Smoak family drama with the possible apocalypse...

This review contains spoilers

4.21: Monument Point

Arrow just finagled 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 humour in most of this episode was Arrow circa-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 Arrow I love is back. (You know, at least until next week?)

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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 Arrow has 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, Arrow channeled the Arrow of 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, Arrow hasn’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.

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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.

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 under the dome 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 Dome stuff 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.

Also, 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. Arrow has 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.

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Read Caroline’s review of the previous episode, Genesis, here.