Arrow – Season 6 Episode 20
Arrow brings Rene back from his extended stay in the hospital as Oliver tries to get himself an audience with Ricardo Diaz using some very risky tactics.
Rene’s presence has definitely been missed on the show. The alternative Team Arrow just aren’t as interesting without him for some reason I have trouble putting my finger on. I feel that part of it might be down to Dinah and Curtis being largely set in their ways to the point that their behaviour is almost predictable where Rene brings a level of instability to everything and keeps thing interesting with the way he approaches things.
At first it looks like he fits right back into the team with no complications. An early recon mission is particularly effective at showing how well this trio work together. Each of them knows their place and Rene’s ability to improvise when complications arise is really nicely done. Similarly their raid on what they think is a drug operation starts off well but goes downhill when Rene is stopped in his tracks by the prospect of getting shot.
He has come back from his long recovery with an acute case of PTSD brought on by a fear of death. The root of this fear is leaving his daughter without a father and worrying about what that means for her. It isn’t something he can get past easily because it very nearly happened before though didn’t seem to manifest until Oliver put him in the hospital forcing him to slow down and actually think about it. Arguably there was plenty of opportunity to bring this in before, particularly after he was shot when Diggle hesitated but one thing the season has done well is keeping up a swift pace when it comes to both storytelling and characterisation so in some ways there hasn’t been much time for Rene to dwell on anything. As I said his time away has forced him to take stock and it results in him being a liability in the field.
Rene’s reaction to this is interesting in a couple of ways. Firstly he does the opposite of Diggle and recognises that fact before removing himself from the situation. Unlike Diggle he doesn’t assume it’s a glitch and refuses to put his teammates in danger as he tries to overcome something that is overwhelming him. It’s very in character for Rene to do this as his loyalty to Curtis and Dinah is well documented at that point.
Secondly he looks for advice on how to deal with the problem after recognising that he has one. Diggle is the obvious choice to give that advice because he has lots of experience of living life as a vigilante while raising a child which means dealing with the prospect that he might not return home on any given night. The advice given is to compartmentalise those feelings and leave them behind when going out in the field. It does work for Diggle to a certain extent though I’m not convinced that it’s good advice and Rene doesn’t seem to agree with it given the difficulty he has pushing his feelings aside. Diggle writes it off as being rusty but the fact that Rene isn’t convinced is interesting to me. I also like the idea that this basically amounts to two fathers comparing notes on how they juggle parenting and their work life. It’s a great connection to make and the show should spend more time on.
Curtis approaching him towards the end of the episode and asking him how he’s getting on with doing what Diggle suggested is both comedic and meaningful. Rene pointing out that it has only been half a day since he realised the problem existed could be a comedic jab at how quickly characters in shows like this get over life changing trauma. Of course it’s something this show will most likely continue to be guilty of so the writers aren’t exactly in a position to judge by putting those words in Rene’s mouth but acknowledging that there is no quick fix to what Rene is going through is definitely a good thing.
One thing I have trouble with is Rene’s conversation with Lucy (Eliza Faria) about his exploits as Wild Dog. She already knows the secret because she’s often in the next room and clearly isn’t stupid; that’s perfectly reasonable but a problem exists in the pep talk she has with Rene. She tells him that Star City is her home and she’s proud of the fact that he fights for it even if his repeated injuries terrify her. She deals with it because Rene raised her to be brave and this inspires him to be brave as well. I hope this doesn’t mean that he returns to the fold as Wild Dog immediately because it flies in the face of dealing with things taking time. Having the blessing of his daughter snap him out of his terror would be immensely lazy storytelling.
Predictably Diggle takes the job at A.R.G.U.S. and is quickly identified as the rising star with the organisation. It makes sense given his skill level and it’s a good place to have him in for now as he is still able to be of use while being distant from Oliver. Arrow has struggled to find places for characters in the past so it’s great that Diggle is being placed somewhere that works for him. It also brings an interesting opportunity to have Dinah, Curtis and Rene backed up by A.R.G.U.S. resources that significantly increase their effectiveness in the field. I wonder if the season won’t end with Team Arrow triumphantly reuniting and instead have Dinah, Curtis and Rene become the vigilante arm of A.R.G.U.S. It could be a different spin on the Suicide Squad idea to represent how Lyla is leading the organisation. The idea has certainly been put forward and this episode possibly acts as a conceptual testbed to see what potential exists within there.
After a few weeks of being given the runaround Quentin finally finds out about Evil Laurel’s association with Diaz and it goes down pretty much as you might expect. Naturally he feels betrayed because he has once again put his faith in Evil Laurel and continues to support her potential redemption only for that to be thrown in his face.
If that had been the plan and Evil Laurel had been playing him this whole time to provide a safe haven for herself while she plans her next move and helps Diaz control the city by having access to privileged information then that would be absolutely fine. Last week showed that she was very much on his side even if murder seemed slightly distasteful to her at some points. Constantly flipping back and forth on what Evil Laurel is supposed to be is growing tiresome and demonstrating a failure to find a defined use for this character. Her motivations change from week to week from deliberately calculating villain to an abused woman unable to escape a horrible situation. It has gone on so long that I no longer believe any attempt to sell her as some kind of victim looking to redeem herself so the show has lost any potential it had to redeem her.
Diaz himself seems very confident now that he’s part of the Quadrant so much so that he’s flaunting both his cash and his influence. Amusingly this ends up putting the Quadrant on Dinah, Curtis, Rene and Diggle’s radar so in the space of a single week they have gone from clandestine organisation that only existed as a rumour to known by those who would try to bring it down. Someone could say that bringing Diaz into the organisation was a mistake and it could end up being their downfall.
Interesting things are being done with Diaz as the man in control of the city. The sheer extent of his influence is shown in this episode when he challenges Quentin to defy him and proves that the Mayor isn’t someone who can oppose him. He’s a man who knows that he’s in charge and has absolutely no problem reminding people of that. Quentin’s misguided motivation to help Evil Laurel means that he does exactly what Diaz wants therefore undoing another possible element of resistance. This sort of approach is what makes him a good Arrow villain because he isn’t motivated by revenge or any other personal desire; he’s just a man who wants to amass as much power as possible and sees Oliver as well as the other vigilantes as a barrier to his growth. He’s dangerous because he can’t be reasoned with, has no angle to be exploited by a hero who knows him and simply has too much influence to take down.
This is partly shown when he fights Oliver. It’s a very minimalist fight that amounts to two men beating each other until one of them submits. Oliver wins this fight fairly easily showing that his training is far superior to whatever Diaz went through. I’d be disappointed if that weren’t the case because there’s no way Diaz could match being trained by Yao Fei, Slade Wilson, A.R.G.U.S., The Bratva, Talia Al Ghul and Ra’s Al Ghul himself. Oliver is a combat ready machine where Diaz is a competent fighter but the difference between them is that Oliver relies on physical confrontation to defeat him where Diaz has moved himself to the position of not needing to fight his own battles. When Oliver is about to win Diaz cheats and stabs him showing that he doesn’t really have any honour because he would rather defeat his opponent than suffer a fair defeat. His way of exploiting the weaknesses of others such as Oliver’s tendency to assume that his opponents have some sense of honour is why he has gotten so far and explains where the difficulty lies in defeat.
The notable contrast to this is Oliver’s conversations with Anatoly. He goes to Anatoly with a plan to get captured -because apparently heroes can do that too- in order to get closer to Diaz. This may seem fairly routine but it’s an opportunity to explore the history between Oliver and Anatoly. We have seen it play out in complicated ways through the flashbacks as well as the present day storytelling. The changing nature of their relationship and clear respect for one another no matter what side of the fence they both sit on at any given moment is fascinating and the episode makes really good use of this by challenging each of them to consider how life currently is for each of them. Anatoly can call Oliver out on his wrong headed decision to go it alone and Oliver can point out that Anatoly’s alliance with Diaz is beneath him because it flies in the face of his honour.
The back to basics approach is something I both like and have issues with for various reasons but this episode actually shows how well it can work in terms of how Oliver chooses to approach protecting the city. At this point bringing down Diaz is top priority but Oliver has to consider his moves carefully because he doesn’t have backup that will bail him out if things get too intense so his tactics have to be smarter. Going to Anatoly is an example of an intelligent approach because Oliver is going after one person and using what he knows about them to progress his own mission. We see that it’s successful because Anatoly starts to oppose Diaz very definitively which gives Oliver a potential escape plan. Taking things slowly and going after one person at a time is an example of what Oliver is capable of when he puts his mind to it though he clearly didn’t anticipate Diaz having him arrested and put on trial. I’m very curious to see if this will eventually result in Oliver openly revealing his identity to the public or not though I’m less than enthusiastic about the court drama that is due to follow.
A strong episode that has some intriguing character beats. Rene’s PTSD makes sense in context because it comes after he has had nothing but time to consider everything he has been through. The fact that he identifies the problem and refuses to put his team in danger by having him be less than effective in the field is also appreciated and acts as a contrast for Diggle’s behaviour earlier in the season. Diggle’s advice to him about learning how to compartmentalise is interesting but also not definitively confirmed as “right” because the issue is more complicated than that. The show needs to spend more time on the fatherly approach with two characters occupying that role. Rene’s pep talk from his daughter is well acted but concerning as it heavily hints that it resolves Rene’s struggle with going back out in the field. If that’s the case then it’s lazy storytelling. Diggle working for A.R.G.U.S. is good so far and having those resources helping out the team has lots of potential.
The constant back and forth on whether Evil Laurel can be redeemed or not has become really tiresome. Quentin finds out about her alliance with Diaz and reacts as you might expect but still wants to help and protect her. It has gotten to the point where any suggestion that she is redeemable is definitely a trick as far as I’m concerned because she has firmly cemented her loyalty to Diaz at this point. The show is doing interesting things with Diaz being in control of the city though revealing the Quadrant to people who will definitely try to bring it down is laughable considering how secretive they were supposed to be. Oliver’s back to basic approach taking a smarter turn by having him exploit what he knows about Anatoly to get close to Diaz is really compelling. It shows that Oliver is taking a smarter approach to being a solo vigilante even if he fails to consider how in control Diaz actually is.
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