Arrow – Season 6 Episode 22
“The Ties that Bind”
Arrow prepares for the season finale by escalating the conflict with Ricardo Diaz and throwing seemingly insurmountable odds at the characters.
The villains in Arrow have always been somewhat repetitive in their approach to taking on Oliver Queen and the people he surrounds himself with. This observation isn’t entirely a criticism because the central antagonists of each season have been unique in their characterisation even if they were similar in their methodology. Ricardo Diaz was noticeably different because he didn’t have a personal vendetta against Oliver, something that the show hasn’t done since Malcolm Merlyn back in the first season. Diaz’ agenda had little to do with Oliver Queen or the Green Arrow beyond Oliver being an obstacle that needs to be removed in order to achieve his goals.
That’s why forcing Oliver to go on trial for crimes he definitely did commit was such a good idea. It shows that this conflict is nothing personal and he’s happy to let Oliver suffer in prison for the rest of his life rather than be the one to personally end his life at the point he loses everything. This approach to developing a villain was interesting because it makes this a unique situation for Oliver since he can’t find a way to use his foe’s hatred for him against them. The fight is more difficult because there is no history or personal feelings to exploit.
Sadly this episode ruins it by manufacturing a vendetta that neither needs to be there nor makes sense for Diaz as a character. Previously he has been established as a cold and calculating schemer who had plans in place to cover different eventualities. Oliver being found innocent should be something he was prepared for with a backup of some description, at least based on prior characterisation.
Instead, Diaz shifts gears to maniacal hatred with the removal of all subtlety in favour of bringing as much pain to Oliver as quickly as possible. This shift isn’t earned because Oliver hasn’t really done enough to Diaz to inspire this level of abhorrence so it just feels like actions that are motivated by moving the plot forward rather than using what has been established about the characters. For instance, Diaz could have taken a more methodical approach to bringing down Oliver and the former members of his team rather than openly attacking them with an all guns blazing methodology.
That’s not to say that this approach isn’t effective because it certainly is and I’ll come back to why. Diaz’ new characterisation is treated consistently throughout the episode with him being more unhinged and impatient with everyone he comes into contact with. He is also allowed to retain his intelligence which enhances the episode at two key points; the first being when he suspects that the leak must have come from Anatoly because he’s the only one it logically could be and the second coming when he immediately realises that Lyla’s visit to the police station isn’t a coincidence. Maybe it’s not so much intelligence as it is common sense but it’s good that he retains one of his most threatening traits and this makes him more dangerous.
It appears that the Quadrant aren’t going to be a significant problem in Star City for very long considering how casually Diaz is murdering their leaders. It seems that the threat this organisation represents will go away as soon as he does which may be for the best since they came out of nowhere and haven’t been developed in any meaningful way. If they were to take over from Diaz as a highly resourced country wide threat next season then I can’t say I’d be all that interested in what they have to offer. For the purposes of this episode they work as part of the endless resources that Diaz has to use against a small amount of people.
This crisis forces Oliver and the former members of his team to work together for the simple reason that they are stronger together than apart. A lot has happened between them and arguably the relationships have been fundamentally altered but they have the same objective and are all being targeted by the same person so working together just makes sense. Unfortunately the episode doesn’t do enough about this and presents the dynamic as being very similar to how it was before. Everyone accepts Oliver’s leadership and falls in line when he speaks. Time apart as different teams should allow for a wider range of opinions and suggested tactics. The only real example of this is Rene itching to get out in the field but that’s consistent with his behaviour anyway even if it actively contradicts his reluctance to be in combat situations in a recent episode.
Instead the focus is on manufacturing a disagreement between Oliver and Felicity and it really doesn’t work because Oliver’s reasoning is flawed in a way that doesn’t make for an endearing character flaw. He doesn’t want Felicity to be out in the field because she’s a parent now and having both of them in danger could mean that William is left with no family to protect him. Felicity counters this by pointing out that both Lyla and Diggle are routinely in life threatening situations together despite being parents though Oliver’s rebuttal to that is that they are both soldiers where she isn’t. This argument makes no sense because it doesn’t really feel like Oliver would ever make it. He understands the danger, respects that Felicity know how to handle herself and knows exactly what’s at stake so suddenly benching her because he’s worried about her doesn’t work.
Oliver’s thinking is treated as flawed as it should be because it isn’t in character which means that the writing has to be really strong to make it clear that something significant has happened to change his usual outlook on things. The conversation he has with Diggle attempts to do that but fails because it changes the nature of the disagreement they had back in “Brothers in Arms“. Diggle apparently left the team because he doubted Oliver’s ability to lead and no longer agreed with his decision making ability because his focus was split in different directions. Oliver claims to have taken this to heart and made changes as a result. This makes no sense because many of those changes were forced on him such as no longer being Mayor.
Removing Felicity from his exploits as Green Arrow was arguably a mistake but I can understand the reasons behind that decision to a certain extent as it created a character arc about realising that his strength was to be found in the people around him. Felicity’s support has been the reason he survived on several occasions so having to realise that once again after dealing with any abandonment issues that surface on the back of his best friend leaving the team is a good story and shows a level of vulnerability to Oliver Queen not normally explored.
Diggle’s point here is that he didn’t mean that Oliver needed to get rid of Felicity or anyone else who helped him as the Green Arrow because he does believe that those resources make him better. This means that his entire point was around Oliver splitting his attention between being a father, the Mayor and the Green Arrow though a large part of the animosity was because he disagreed with Oliver’s decisions. This doesn’t manifest here as Diggle has his back as if nothing happened even if Stephen Amell and David Ramsey throw in an undercurrent of tension and awkwardness to their interactions.
A reasonable extension of this would have been if Diggle was second guessing or disagreeing with Oliver’s tactics and trying to overpower his leadership with his own. That would have been interesting as an extension of their conflict as well as sending a message that what happened was important and has had a lasting impact on the characters. Instead it’s Team Arrow back together again through necessity and working as an effective team because they need to be against Diaz. If part of the conflict had come from within it would have shown that relationships aren’t so easily repaired.
Oliver and the rest of the team are constantly on the defensive throughout this episode and there’s a real sense that safety is only temporary until Diaz figures out where they are. The near infinite resources opposing Team Arrow’s limited resources makes for an effective source of tension and having Diaz destroy the Bunker enhances this by cutting them off from something that used to represent safety. This leads Oliver to conclude that he can’t defeat Diaz with the resources at his disposal so he asks Agent Watson for help. She has two conditions; the first is for him to admit to her that he’s the Green Arrow which he does without hesitation and the second is left unknown until next week. I’m unsure what it could be but I suspect it is along the lines of a full confession once Diaz has been stopped or admitting his identity to the public.
This is a solid end to the episode because it draws on a thread that hasn’t been picked up in a while and expands on the antagonistic relationship that exists between Oliver and Agent Watson. It’s a good example of something established earlier in the season that becomes important at the end. It’s problematic in the context of a shared universe because Oliver isn’t without resources by any stretch of the imagination since he can always give Barry a call to ask for some assistance which gains him the abilities of a Speedster, someone who can hop dimensions and -as far as he knows- a metahuman with ice based powers. He could always call the Legends for help as well and expand his team that way. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that he could ask Kara for help and have her bring the resources of the DEO to his aid. Agent Watson is definitely his last resort as the episode makes clear though she isn’t really his last resort. Once again I’m torn between effective plotting within the framework of a season and lack of acknowledgement of a shared universe.
Oliver and Anatoly’s friendship is used really well in this episode. They recently came to something of an understanding and it’s clear that Anatoly is worried that partnering with Diaz might have been a mistake. The complexity of the Oliver/Anatoly friendship has always been compelling because it is fuelled by a rich history that lets it develop in interesting ways. In this case Anatoly is Oliver’s support at great risk to himself and also has a great pseudo antagonistic dynamic with Diaz that helps ramp up the tension with Anatoly’s life appearing to be in real jeopardy.
Lyla’s appearance in this episode ends up being one of the best things about it. Her contribution is really important and shows how good she is in a crisis as well as how competent she is when doing her job. Her handling of the infiltration of the police station and realising that the situation is something she has to be removed from is everything you’d expect from an expert Government agent and the effortless battlefield rapport she has with Diggle as the fight their way out is a great piece of action based characterisation while serving as a contrast to Oliver and Felicity being very much the opposite..
In general the action was great in this episode with a number of set pieces helping to keep up the momentum which matched on a narrative level with Diaz focus on bringing down Oliver and using all of the resources at his disposal to do so. His constant onslaught of devastating attacks that the team can’t prepare for is a great showcase for how formidable Diaz can be and it allows for some engaging action. The early sequence involving the simultaneous attack on each member of the cast as they spent time with loved ones -except Dinah- was well directed, easy to follow and really kinetic in its approach to the action. The later sequence that followed Felicity through the police station indicating that her safety was the focus of that part of the episode was great too.
An uneven episode that ditches a lot of the strong work done earlier in the season in favour of moving the plot forward in ways that don’t make sense. Changing Diaz from a cold and calculating villain to being consumed by hatred for Oliver wasn’t a good move as it cuts the unique selling point of the villain. He does get to retain his intelligence and the sheer volume of resources he commands makes him formidable but this could have been achieved without creating the personal vendetta against Oliver. His constant onslaught of attacks does help to reinforce how formidable he is and allows for some really well directed action sequences that help keep the momentum of the episode flowing. Team Arrow working together is a good idea in theory but it doesn’t quite work because Oliver’s position on Felicity being involved in the field makes no real sense and there appears to be very few consequences to the team being split apart. There were so many ways this could have manifested but the impact of this is fairly minimal when it should have been another source of tension and conflict.
The episode makes really good use of Lyla by showing how effective she is at her job along with establishing a really impressive battlefield rapport with Diggle as a contrast to Oliver and Felicity not being on the same page as a married couple who also fight together. Anatoly’s relationship with Oliver is used really well as is his crumbling partnership with Diaz with his loyalty to Oliver putting him in a very dangerous position. Oliver’s decision to go to Agent Watson makes a lot of sense in terms of what has been established by the season and it’s clear that there will be consequences to this that are so far unknown to the audience. Using Agent Watson as a last resort resource to bring down Diaz is a smart move on Oliver’s part though it fails to acknowledge the shared universe that Arrow belongs to and the plethora of resources that he could call on to help him in this conflict.
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