This Arrow review contains spoilers.
Arrow Season 6 Episode 18 Review
Arrow attempts to give its villain some depth with a straightforward backstory, a quest to climb the ladder of a stereotypical criminal enterprise, and flirtation with evil Laurel. Sadly everything wrong with this episode feels emblematic of the season’s larger problems, from the lack of a villain we can sink our teeth into to a refusal to dig into the moral depths of Oliver’s quest to save the city, the other Laurel’s attempt to make good, and the other interpretations of what it means to be a hero.
Most of our main characters had the week off, and even those who appeared (Felicity, Curtis, and Oliver) made incredibly brief appearances that added little to the plot. That left most of a very long 40 minutes to focus on Diaz, perhaps the least interesting villain of the year. Was Anatoly busy? With only four more episodes this season, it’s a terrible time to make us slog through such a slow hour, petering out what little momentum Arrow still had.
Our narrative through-line of the night is Diaz’s horrible childhood that clearly still haunts him, so much so that he found the orphanage abuser, covered him in lighter fluid, and lit him on fire. It’s awfully late in the season to try to make Diaz more interesting and does little to solve one of this season’s biggest problems: we don’t care about any of the baddies. Last week’s hallucination of Adrian Chase made that painfully clear – even as a figment, he conjured more electricity than anyone from this season’s pack of miscreants.
Packing the line-up this season feels like an unsuccessful attempt to throw the kitchen sink at us. Even if it’s meant to teach us that Oliver is his own greatest villain, it’s a mighty longwinded lesson with little payoff. The most promising antagonist, the FBI agent investigating Oliver, has disappeared for most of the season. Wouldn’t it be more interesting to see Oliver take on someone who wants the right thing for his city, just as much as he does? An interrogation of Oliver’s shifting role as a man, mayor, and vigilante would be more engaging if it dealt with the ethical depths of how best to save a city, rather than calling everything an evil conspiracy and calling it a day. Once again it’s Oliver against the corrupt world, and we already know he will always be right.
Diaz attempts to get in with the Quadrant, a criminal organization we’ve never heard of before that appears to be manufactured entirely out of mafia clichés. They’re like a family! They have impossibly high standards, but once you’re in, you’re in for life! Unless you snitch, of course. Then they mow you down with a hail of bullets in broad daylight.
Perhaps the only engaging parts of this episode involve Diaz’s chemistry with Laurel. The actors would clearly excel with better material, and their magnetism almost makes us forget all the terrible things they’ve done. Are we repositioning Diaz to be redeemed? Perhaps the hometown villain will get cold feet and turn on his Quadrant brethren if they try to run the town into the ground.
Laurel spent most of the episode receiving compliments and putting men in their place, which is highly enjoyable, but it can only go so far. It’s also worth noting that Laurel is Captial-E Evil in this episode. We can tell because she gets a severe, dark brown wig and a bright red lip. The effect does little to hide her identity (which she only seems to care about on occasion), and mostly makes it seem like she’s single white female-ing Alex Danvers while taking her makeup cues from Felicity.
I love a bold lip as much as the next person, but it’s not enough to hang your hat on. At what point is Arrow going to really reckon with the other Laurel’s morals? The writers and Quentin have put a lot of effort into showing us the other side of her, in an attempt to get a redemption arc going. But it seems they’re more interested in twists and turns than character development, because she does something suspicious or dastardly every time an episode needs one more twist of the knife. This arc would really benefit from more interiority from Laurel. While that’s antithetical to red herrings, it would make her actions more understandable or at least comprehensible, in the way that Dinah’s or Rene’s were when they seemed to betray the show’s morality.
Katie Cassidy is excellent, but Arrow has yet to figure out what to do with her latest iteration, making it only more obvious that this new Laurel doesn’t fill the void left by the old one, or even take the role vacated by characters like Nyssa, Sara, or even Amanda Waller. Complicated women who disagree with Oliver and do their own thing independent of any iteration of Team Arrow are a worthwhile endeavor, but only if they have a purpose beyond messing with the audience’s head. And those twists only work so many times before we get bored and move on.
In a season that has been unwilling to engage with its central conflict in a real way, one would think a break from that would be welcome. Instead, this episode feels of a piece with the rest of this season: overly long, and low on substance. No matter how many explosions, immolations, or canary cries they pack in, the fights are lifeless and inconsequential. Should we side with the least-interesting of Cayden James’s henchmen, or this new guy in pastel, played by someone your mom might maybe remember? This sort of filler wears thin on a strong season. With an uneven one, and can be downright deadly.