Arrow – Season 4 Episode 23
Arrow brings another season to a close with Oliver’s ongoing struggle against Damien Darhk reaching its conclusion before he succeeds in wiping out humanity.
This episode isn’t about stopping Damien Darhk’s plan as that happened last week so this episode is mostly focused on dealing with the problem of the man himself lingering around after Team Arrow have decimated his plans. I mentioned last week that Darhk is at the point where he personally has nothing left to lose and that definitely comes across here. If he’s going down then he’s more than content to take the rest of the world with him.
I like that he has rational reasons for his madness which makes sense considering how long he has lived. Having him go completely off the reservation wouldn’t quite work for me so it’s interesting to hear that in his mind he is sparing the world from the sort of pain he is experiencing with specific reference to Quentin not having to deal with the loss of Laurel and his daughter not having to suffer growing up without a mother. The fact that he also seems to be content with dying shows how far gone he is.
Ultimately that’s about as interesting as it gets as Oliver’s conflict with Darhk in this episode. Since Darhk is behaving so recklessly for admittedly justifiable reasons the overall conflict is robbed of much of its depth. Throughout the season Darhk has been portrayed as a meticulously calculating individual with a defined endgame so having him behave more like Anarky –as I mentioned last week- undermines a lot of that. His development has been uneven but Neil McDonough’s performance has always projected a sense of purpose to whatever he was doing. To my mind Oliver defeated that Damien Darhk last week and what he is left with is the shell of that to deal with this week.
Neil McDonough can always be counted on to deliver an engaging and believable performance though. He fully commits to the version of Damien Darhk that has been driven mad by everything that he has lost so it’s nothing if not entertaining. The way he casually threatens Felicity, Donna and Curtis simply because he’s annoyed at Oliver is a particularly great scene that shows how big a threat he is especially when he is so unpredictable.
His plan to destroy humanity in a nuclear fire is fairly definitive but it’s also a really bad idea from a story perspective. As problems go it feels far too big for Team Arrow to handle simply because their focus has never been a global one. Oliver’s mission as noted in the first episode is to save his city. This has evolved over the years into becoming more of a heroic presence and a symbol for people to look up to but the mission of saving the city has always been consistent. Granted stopping the world ending does technically save Star City but it’s such a massive issue that it doesn’t feel right in this show.
It’s especially problematic when most of it amounts to Felicity and Curtis spewing rapid fire technobabble to explain what they’re doing so the fact that the nukes are stopped is completely robbed of any drama. Previous episodes have largely avoided this by keeping the stakes of the situation focused on the characters with the camera work complimenting the whole thing by adding a sense of urgency. All of this was gone here and the nuke headed for Star City was stopped by what can essentially be defined as more magic. Characters speaking jargon to prove that they are capable of stopping something before they do it doesn’t equate to excitement or credible drama.
Using nukes as a sign of danger hasn’t worked all that well because there have been no consequences to any of it. An entire town was nuked but nobody has reacted to it in any meaningful way. Felicity was her usual self with no apparent guilt for being indirectly responsible for tens of thousands of deaths. It’s a really big event so I can’t understand why the show isn’t treating it as such. It doesn’t look like this is going to inform Felicity’s arc in any way so why bother doing it at all? It really looks like this was just for empty shock value and to give Damien Darhk more power from all of the deaths.
Despite the fact that there was a ticking clock throughout much of this episode there was no tension. It doesn’t help that Team Arrow would rather sit around obsessing about their emotional issues than focus on the issue at hand. Personal problems should be pushed aside when the world is faced with the prospect of nuclear annihilation.
It’s confusing that Diggle was having so much trouble here as he has been remarkably on task since he killed his brother. Suddenly during this episode when in the middle of a major crisis this catches up with him. David Ramsey’s acting was excellent as usual but it all felt out of place at this point. Having Lyla understand the truth is all well and good but we all knew she would anyway so why devote so much time to it at this point? His reluctance to shoot the Ghost because he was reminded of his brother in that same uniform was well handled and Lyla doing it for him shows how strong their bond is but in the middle of a combat situation is the wrong time to do this. Again, focusing on this robs the whole situation of any suspense. It’s also inconsistent with everything that has been established about Diggle. He has always been shown as someone who can keep his mind on the mission and deal with emotional conflicts later, granted killing his brother won’t be easy to shrug off but considering he has managed it before now it makes no sense for it to be a problem at this point.
Oliver’s arc was handled really well with attention given to his desire to be an inspiration to the city. The speech that he gives to the random people fighting on the streets was a little overblown and full of cliché sentiments but the point came across clearly. He appeals to the people as one of them using his identity as Oliver Queen to remind the people that they are in a city worth saving and worth fighting for. It’s enough to encourage them to stop fighting one another and work together to protect their city.
Being a symbol of hope is something that Oliver has struggled with over the season. His self-doubt has made him less confident about his potential to be that for the city but with that speech he fully embraces it and accepts the fact that he can be that. It’s an interesting contrast to the first episode of the season where he gives a similar speech in the guise of the Green Arrow. In that speech, Oliver promised the city that they would have someone stand up for them in the form of the Green Arrow and this speech encourages them to stand up for themselves as well as each other. It means more that it comes from someone not hidden under a hood but it doesn’t devalue Green Arrow as a force that protects the common man. This is an excellent way for Oliver to use both identities to inspire people in different ways.
This proves to be the key to defeating Damien Darhk. It was established that his power is fuelled by death and destruction so is countered by hope. Darhk has grown more powerful because of the people killed in the nuclear strike and Oliver counters that by growing more resistant to his magic by inspiring people to rise up against him. His powers no longer work on Oliver because he has the support of the city. It’s a very literal manifestation of Oliver’s arc and it works really well.
Unfortunately once Darhk’s magic is defeated the next stage isn’t all that satisfying. He decides to take Oliver on the old fashioned way since he is a former member of the League of Assassins who is second only to Ra’s Al Ghul himself so it should provide a challenging and entertaining fight for Oliver. Sadly the execution of said fight is far from either of those things. It actually reminded me of Oliver’s fight with Ra’s Al Ghul from last season in that it felt like a complete anticlimax and wasn’t up to the usual high standards of choreography we have seen in the past. It was competent sure but it didn’t look all that impressive and didn’t seem to have the level of challenge for Oliver that the episode needed it to.
Oliver does make good on his promise and kills him which I didn’t have a problem with. He made a vow to not kill but arguably there are some people who are too dangerous to be left alive. Damien Darhk is responsible for countless deaths and almost ended the world as we know it so I would say there’s a strong argument for getting him out of the way permanently.
Outside of the global threat that he represents Oliver has personal reasons for wanting Dahrk dead. He has caused untold suffering in the lives of everyone he loves and murdering Laurel was what made him vow to put an end to him for good. Darhk raises the point of Deathstroke being left alive despite killing his mother and Oliver accepts that before pointing out that killing a friend of his as well as tens of thousands of people leaves him with no choice where Slade could be stopped without having to kill him. Whether that’s an acceptable rationale or not is up for debate but the important thing is that Oliver has a line that he has drawn and will stick to his guns on it. In his mind Damien Darhk left him with no choice and he has to die for what he has done so that he can’t hurt anyone else again. It’s a fairly bittersweet victory that Oliver has but I suspect that’s the point as killing someone should never be triumphant. I wonder what will become of Darhk’s daughter since she now has no living parents or relatives that we know of.
This action sequence reminded me a lot of The Dark Knight Rises and that really isn’t a good thing as far as I’m concerned. In short I thought that movie was a mess with uninteresting action and the similar brawl between the criminal element and Bane’s forces was the biggest example of that. The setup here was somewhat similar with lots of random people throwing punches at each other while the hero and villain duke it out in the middle of it. As I’ve said there was no real impression that Oliver was finding the fight especially difficult and the whole thing was fairly hard to follow. I also have to question why the Ghosts didn’t use their guns at all during this fight other than the plot needing there to be a fistfight so that ordinary people could take back their city.
Oliver is shown to be deeply conflicted about his actions and goes to Laurel’s grave to try and resolve this in his head. He sees himself as still being full of darkness that he is unable to escape and feels sorry for himself as a result of this. Felicity sets him straight by pointing out that there is darkness within him but also the potential for good. He is the man who killed Darhk out of a desire for revenge but he also inspired an entire city to stand with him and defeated Darhk with the hope generated by his speech. This is where the title “Schism” comes in. According to Felicity Oliver is at war with himself on a constant basis and that’s what makes him such an effective hero. This is continued when he takes the job of Mayor with the comment that he appears conflicted. It’s that conflict that allows him to be an effective leader as well as a hero.
The island story resolves itself with Oliver eventually having to kill Taiana after exposure to the power that the Idol offers proves to be too much for her. There’s a brief fight with Baron Reiter in there but in all honesty absolutely none of it is interesting. It ends as we would have expected it to and there’s a hint that Oliver moves onto the next thing whatever that might be. The writers really need to look at the format of the flashbacks for next season and decide what they’re going to do with them because dragging out a small story across 23 episodes just doesn’t work. Maybe next season there could be a smaller story that disappears for some of the season or an entire episode could be devoted just to flashing back to Oliver’s final final year in exile. It’s also possible that they have a brilliant idea for next season.
You might be forgiven for thinking that there is to be no next season given the way that things wrapped up here. Team Arrow is fractured as most of them decide to leave. Quentin is the first to go after being fired from the police. The interesting thing about it is that he doesn’t care about losing his job. Laurel’s death has made him reassess his priorities and apparently the police aren’t part of it. He helped Oliver avenge Laurel so now he’s done with the whole thing and wants to leave the city that brought him so much misery. I’d say it’s fair enough and we should all wish him well. I hope this doesn’t mean that Quentin is gone for good because I’m always #TeamQuentin.
Diggle is completely broken inside as I’ve mentioned and it has really hit him now that the current situation is over. He needs to take some time away from the team for his own sanity and decides to go back to the Army. It’s a surprising turn for Diggle considering how he always has Oliver’s back but it makes sense given what he has been through this season.
Thea decides that the life of a superhero isn’t for her because she doesn’t like the person she is turning into. She rushed into her role as Speedy or Red Arrow -or whatever else she plans to call herself- without considering the consequences of that. As such she became the sort of person who is capable of threatening a little girl to diffuse a bigger threat. She needs to figure things out and Oliver understands where she is coming from since he went through the same thing himself.
When Thea decides to leave she mentions that Laurel would probably tell her to leave before she loses herself completely. This extends another problem that the season has had around Laurel’s death. Since she died the show has tried to convince the viewer through dialogue that Laurel was the conscience of the team. She was in some ways but it’s not something that has been developed to the point that she felt like an integral part of it for that reason. If the writers had decided to kill her from the beginning of the season then they could have spent time making it clear that this was her role.
Felicity decides to stay with Oliver and this will go one of two ways. The first is that they will be a fun duo who save people while having flippant banter and the second is more of the relationship angst that we have been dealing with all season. I’m really hoping for the former as I don’t want any more relationship angst from either of them. I wonder if the team will come back together or whether a new team will be formed with different people to become emotionally messed up. We will have to wait until October to see.
A solid episode that concludes Oliver’s conflict with Damien Darhk while completing Oliver’s development towards becoming a symbol for the city to rally behind. The action was fairly underwhelming and Damien Darhk became less interesting as a result of his plan being toppled last week but the idea still shone through. Using nukes as a problem for Team Arrow to solve is definitely overkill for this show and resolving it through technobabble doesn’t work at all in creating tension or drama. Team Arrow breaking up at the end of the episode to sort out their own emotional baggage was an interesting surprise and I wonder where this leaves the show next season.
Overall this season was a vast improvement over the previous one but it was still missing something in the execution. The promise of a lighter tone was sometimes delivered really well but was a misfire in other ways. Building to Laurel’s death didn’t work because it was clear that there were no plans to kill her off until much later. Her death was handled really well in terms of the reactions of the other characters and the impact it had on the team but if her role had been better defined then it would have had more weight. The biggest problem the season had was too much emphasis on the soap opera elements with Felicity and Oliver’s relationship being too angst ridden as well as the complication of Oliver’s illegitimate child making things nearly intolerable in places.
There was a lot to recommend about this season and my personal highlights were “Brotherhood“, “A.W.O.L.”, “Eleven Fifty-Nine” and “Canary Cry” because those episode focused more on the characters than any other and the real strength of this show is in how it portrays the characters. Let’s hope season 5 gets this show completely back on track.