Arrow – Season 4 Episode 20
Arrow starts building towards the finale as Damien Darhk’s mysterious Genesis plan start to gain some much needed momentum.
That’s not to say it’s the main plot despite it being the title of the episode. It’s definitely in there but is largely only mentioned as a thing that is bubbling along in the background. Damien Darhk asks his colleagues at H.I.V.E. if things are still on schedule before he kills them, he needs to get a hold of Lyla because she has a device that he needs to bring about Armageddon and Thea is stuck in an episode of The Twilight Zone that ties into this but that’s about it for the plot related to Genesis.
Instead, the episode does something arguably far more interesting and focuses on Diggle’s conflict with his brother as well as his devotion to his wife and daughter. He has been shouldering a lot of guilt recently over what happened to Laurel because he insisted that Andy could be trusted when he couldn’t and that misplaced faith indirectly resulted in Laurel’s death. Whether it is actually Diggle’s fault or not is completely up for debate but the important thing for this episode is that he believes that it is so sees it as his duty to make up for that in some way.
The only way he feels he can begin to put things right is by chasing down his brother and making him pay for what he did. It’s not even about Andy at this point, it’s more about Diggle being unable to live with himself and needing an outlet for that anger and grief. In his mind it isn’t Andy’s fault that Laurel was killed, it’s his for allowing himself to have a blindspot for family; something he explicitly told Oliver not to do.
Interestingly, Andy refers to the conflict between Team Arrow and Damien Darhk’s forces to be a War. It’s a common frame of reference that both Andy and Diggle understand because they both fought in one. If it’s a War then the Diggle brothers are soldiers in that conflict on opposite sides. In that sense the fact that they are related to one another is essentially irrelevant when it comes to the bigger picture. Both sides know what they have to do in order to win and the fact that they happen to be family doesn’t really change that.
Andy tries to make that more difficult by making the conflict more personal. He does this by pointing out that it’s difficult for him to understand why Diggle was able to kill enemies in a foreign country to defend strangers but is seemingly unwilling to go to the same lengths when his family are being threatened.
This episode does suffer from the lack of development of Andy as a character. At one point it seemed as if he had broken Darhk’s programming which was supposed to make his betrayal all the more shocking but the problem with that was Andy hadn’t been featured enough to really invest in him. There was a connection through Diggle and the way he felt about the situation but as a viewer I wasn’t encouraged to invest in Andy at all so the betrayal fell a bit flat from that point of view. Knowing Diggle and seeing how engaging David Ramsey’s performance was helped to sell it but there was a big piece missing to make the whole thing work.
Andy’s lack of development makes it hard to figure out what his underlying motivation is. He seems like more than simply a mindless pawn of Damien Darhk as his actions suggest that he has an agenda. Eugene Byrd’s performance supports that as he clearly takes some kind of pleasure from threatening Diggle’s family. It could also be argued that he is goading his brother into killing him so that he can finally be free of Darhk’s influence. It’s possible that the programming can’t be broken completely but he can try to make his brother angry enough to kill him which removes the problem. If we knew Andy better as a character then this would be a lot clearer but as I said, it falls a little flat. If he was genuinely planning to go after Lyla and Sara persistently then that really plays into the soldiers on different sides idea as it would indicate that Andy no longer sees Diggle as his brother.
Ultimately Diggle does what is necessary to protect his family and kills his brother. Andy gave him no other alternative short of keeping him locked up forever and even with that there are no guarantees that he wouldn’t eventually escape to threaten his family all over again. The act of killing Andy is about as close to cold blood as it gets and Diggle has to live with that but arguably he did what was necessary. He has to deal with a lifetime of guilt and regret so that his family can be safe and David Ramsey completely sells the weight of this. It’s a real sacrifice in the truest sense of the word and definitely should be something a father is more than willing to do.
The fact that it is shown to be haunting him pretty much right away is consistent with Diggle as a character. He doesn’t blame himself for what he did as such but wishes it wasn’t something he had to do. When talking to Lyla he makes reference to having killed his “baby brother” and doesn’t try to get around it. He is the one who killed the brother that he was desperate to avenge not so long ago and spent a lot of his life trying to protect. Lyla tries to reassure him by pointing out that Andy left him no other options but it’s clear through David Ramsey’s performance that this experience will stay with him for the rest of his life.
While this is going on, Oliver and Felicity head to Hub City to get help from a Shaman named Esrin Fortuna (Gabriella Wright) on the advice of John Constantine so that Oliver can learn to counter Damien Darhk’s magic. These scenes were pretty lightweight and actually a lot of fun. Remarkably there was an almost total lack of angst despite the fact that Oliver and Felicity were involved. In a lot of ways their interactions reminded me of season 1 or 2 where they were partners without a romantic edge to it. It was refreshing to see and Felicity’s role in the story was far from being relationship driven which was also refreshing. She got to use her intelligence and wits when playing blackjack and seemed to be having fun. It’s nice to see that lighter tone that was promised before the season began now and again.
Fortuna is a fun character and seems to be a largely original creation though it is a name used by one of the Three Witches so there is some connection there. Her purpose is to clue Oliver in on how magic works but it’s pretty vague when all is said and done. There’s lots of discussion of forces in the universe having opposites and tapping into primordial energies. Basically we won’t understand it because it’s magic. I don’t really have an issue with it as such but I feel if John Constantine was around then he wouldn’t accept that explanation. The constant references to him made me wish he was around but I did enjoy Oliver’s impression of him.
Essentially Oliver can’t counter Darhk’s magic because he carries around so much darkness and that only makes Darhk more powerful. To get around it he has to repel it with light but that’s something Oliver has trouble with. When Fortuna uses Darhk’s magic on him he has a vision of all of the major villains he has faced so far as well as everyone he has lost which makes it clear that he still carries a lot of darkness around with him and has let it consume him. I liked this as it ties into the overall theme of Oliver trying to put his past behind him and move on with a much lighter attitude but this experience points out that he hasn’t managed to do that.
Oliver has been called out on his tendency to mope and blame himself for every terrible thing that happens to or near him so it’s good to see that feed into the bigger issue of fighting Damien Darhk. As long as he focuses on the negative aspects of everything he will never be able to defeat Darhk so maybe the resolution of that conflict will connect to the resolution of his internal conflict.
The fact that Fortuna gives up after one try because Oliver is hopeless as far as she’s concerned didn’t sit right with me. She’s an immortal so probably has a lot of experience in wasting time on people who can’t be taught but her refusal felt very rushed without a reasonable explanation as to why she refused to try again.
Having Oliver be able to repel Darhk’s magic within minutes –in terms of screentime- of learning that he can’t do that because he is consumed by darkness feels a little cheap as well. The explanation of thinking about every good thing he has in his life starting with Felicity made sense but there should have been a gap of at least an episode before he was able to change his entire way of thinking. It feels like the arc is cheap and unearned because he resolved the issue so soon after being told it would be impossible.
Thea had a very strange subplot where she goes on a romantic getaway with Alex and things prove to be not what they seem. I don’t use strange in a negative way as on the whole it was fairly compelling. Having Alex be oblivious to how weird the situation was where Thea was acting paranoid had a lot of promise but it didn’t quite work as we don’t really know much about Alex despite the fact that he has been around all season.
The things Thea notices are really subtle but clearly drive her more insane as the episode progresses. If nothing else it shows her how far she has come in her training as her senses are so finely tuned that she is able to pick up on these things. There’s also the fact that she is so paranoid after all she has experienced that she is unable to relax or trust any situation. I guess that’s the burden of being a vigilante.
It turns out that her paranoia is well founded as it is revealed that she is trapped in an underground dome associated with the Genesis plan. As I said, I liked this story but really wish there was more of it. It felt like an episode of the Twilight Zone in a lot of ways so I wish that had really been capitalised on and more discomfort had been developed throughout the episode. It’s a shame it comes off feeling a bit rushed in the end as it was a nice departure from the usual storytelling found on Arrow. I wonder if the honeycomb structure of the dome was a reference to the recent DC event Convergence
The whole Genesis plan is summarised at the end of the episode with a Phil Collins reference thrown in for good measure. Darhk’s plan apparently involved nuking the entire planet and rebuilding from there. Felicity makes a comment about not applying logic to this plan and it’s good advice because it seems pretty stupid otherwise. Granted we don’t know the full ins and outs of it but, in all honesty, do the writers?
I have to comment that there were no flashbacks this week and it was a huge improvement in terms of pacing and storytelling.
A solid episode that has a lot to recommend but also makes some notable missteps. Diggle’s conflict with Andy is really well done but brought down a little because of the lack of proper development when it comes to Andy. David Ramsey’s performance plugs a lot of the gaps but it is still noticeable. Felicity and Oliver’s mission to Hub City is a lot of fun but comes across as rushed when the immortal shaman writes him off as hopeless after a few minutes. Oliver resolving the issues that make him vulnerable to Damien Darhk’s magic is fairly unearned after such a short period of time to work on it. Thea’s adventure inspired by The Twilight Zone works well too but I wish there had been a lot more of it to enhance it further. So far Damien Darhk’s Genesis plan seems really stupid but I concede that we don’t know all of the details yet.