Arrow – Season 4 Episode 21
The stakes are high as Arrow continues to build towards the season finale with a greatest hits of villains introduced this season and last.
At this point in the season bringing back a collection of the surviving villains makes a lot of sense. In terms of narrative economy it saves so much time because they don’t have to be introduced since we already know them. It also functions as a bit of a reward for continuing to watch the show. If you like any of these villains then seeing them return feels like a bit of a treat.
The returning villains in question are Vinnie Jones’ Brick, Adrian Glynn McMorran’s Murmur, Alexander Calvert’s Anarky and Tom Amandes’ The Calculator. They all factor into the episode in different ways but they also feel like they have a defined place within it. Outside of the Calculator none of them are given massive prominence as such. This is a good thing as it allows the plot to move forward without a half-baked villain being introduced to carry it.
It was particularly good to see Brick back as I really didn’t expect him to appear again. He has been demoted to middle management for Damien Darhk rather than being the crime boss he was last season but he doesn’t lose any of the attitude or the threat level as a result. He still proves formidable in the action scenes and there’s even a reminder of him giving people a chance to take him down before he kills them. It all makes for some effective shorthand that gives a former villain a chance to have some input while showing a little personality.
Anarky is someone I can take or leave. I am having trouble seeing past how little this version of the character resembles the comic version. I know that he doesn’t have to but why not create an original character rather than invite comparison where none exists?
Despite that I do like Anarky as a character as he’s so wonderfully unpredictable every time he shows up. Who could have predicted that he would randomly show up in the habitat that Thea is trapped in? His motivation here is that he wants to get back at Damien Darhk by destroying it but he hasn’t considered the large amounts of brainwashed innocent people that will die as a result of his sabotage of the life support system. Then again maybe he has considered them and doesn’t care.
Thea being around proves to be a very useful since she has a connection to Anarky with her being the one who scarred his face. It’s not the best start to a negotiation but the situation is desperate enough to give it a go.
It seems to go fairly well to begin with as Thea clearly starts to get through to him by appealing to his better nature. Anarky has some respect for her as she was able to match him in combat which apparently carries a lot of weight for him. There’s also the disturbing notion of Anarky considering Thea to be his “mother” that I don’t really understand. Fair enough it could simply be the ravings of a lunatic but if he feels that Thea is responsible for the man he is now then the rationale behind that doesn’t really come across.
The reveal that Malcolm was essentially using Thea as a distraction so that he could sneak up on Anarky to put an arrow in him was not unexpected. Malcolm’s relationship with Thea is a complicated one and he definitely isn’t above using his daughter to accomplish his goals. He does this with absolutely no remorse as well which rings consistent.
Thea’s situation is a fairly dire one as she is trapped underground under the pretence of making her safe. She clearly wants to be out there helping Oliver and the rest of the team take on Damien Darhk so being stuck in this situation is more frustrating than terrifying. I like that her frustration is magnified by the repetitive background sounds of the false environment.
Malcolm confirms that Darhk’s plan is to wipe out most of humanity and rebuild using his chosen few. It is pointed out that this is essentially a larger scale version of what Malcolm planned to do with the Glades in season 1 so this is literally repetition with some severe expansion to up the stakes.
This isn’t bad as such but the whole Genesis plan has been pretty underdeveloped over the course of the season so it does feel like it comes slightly out of nowhere rather than being a persistent endgame that Darhk has been building to this whole time.
Malcolm’s role in H.I.V.E. makes Thea one of those chosen few as part of the deal he made but she couldn’t be less interested in being part of that world and she makes that abundantly clear. She doesn’t have any love for Malcolm at this point and finds the habitat full of brainwashed people to be really distasteful. Strangely it hasn’t made any difference to Alex who has about as much personality as he normally does – by that I mean none. His death at the hands of Anarky doesn’t really have much weight due to how underdeveloped he has been.
Team Arrow really have their hands full this week with the threat of nuclear destruction imminent. The whole episode has a countdown that actually keeps the pacing sharp and urgent. It is always clear how much time they have left and how quickly action needs to be taken. Everything they do feels rushed but in a good way as there’s no time be overly cautious. It’s good to have the focus of the narrative shifted away from angst on the whole.
Felicity’s father, the Calculator is someone they need to call on for assistance because he will know how to get around the code. The issue is that Darhk knows this too so wants to have him eliminated. This allows for a brief game of cat and mouse as Team Arrow try to find him before Darhk does. It’s all fairly routine stuff but works really well as the penalty for failure is a very severe one.
The interesting thing about the use of the Calculator is his strained relationship with Felicity and how the episode handles it. She shows real maturity when expressing her willingness to put that aside for the greater good and that’s exactly how it should be. I must admit that I was surprised that there weren’t any objectives but I guess that’s a symptom of the way many of the characters have been behaving this season.
When working with him she keeps it professional as she is unable to trust him but it’s obvious that she is finding it difficult to remain detached from the situation. There’s venom in her voice when she recounts his betrayal earlier in the season and she is constantly expecting it to happen again.
The situation is further complicated when he apparently needs a really fast processor to get around the code in the time they have left but the board choose this moment to fire Felicity from Palmertech over her decision to give away the chip that helps her walk. It couldn’t come at a worse time as they are really against the clock and now have to arrange a heist to retrieve the technology that they need. It all goes pretty well but it definitely takes time that they do not have.
Despite how successful it was the whole operation felt sloppy which makes sense given the limited preparation time available. Oliver taking on the security guards in the stairwell was a really impressive action sequence made more exciting by the claustrophobic conditions.
Considering the climactic sequence focused on two people sitting at computers to hack something no tension was lost and the stakes were still clear. It helped that this was coupled by Darhk’s forces trying to stop them which gave the rest of the team something to do. The cutting between the two situations kept it interesting and it was oddly satisfying to watch Felicity and her father work together on the same problem. There was even a suggestion that her father does care when he took a bullet for her. I dare say there is more work to be done on their relationship but I really liked the dynamic that they had in this episode. It was professional yet had layers that there wasn’t time to address. This is further proof that Felicity is a really good character when used properly so I want to see more of this in the future.
The end result of the hacking plot was really shocking. One of the nukes can’t be stopped and actually impacts a town named Havenrock’s. The intended target was a place called Monument Point and the difference in casualties was tens of thousands instead millions so from a statistical point of view this was the better option.
Of course it isn’t as simple as that as the tens of thousands in question are all human beings. Felicity made the conscious choice to divert the missile to another populated area because that was the only option at the time. In her mind it will be her that sealed the fates of all the people who died. That is some heavy emotional baggage to have to bear and my thinking is that her choice will inform her character arc for the foreseeable future. It’s a bold choice to allow the nuke to hit a populated area especially since I was expecting the threat to be stopped at the last second. It certainly seemed to be heading that way so I’m really impressed at the direction it took.
This tragedy is the worst thing that has happened on Arrow to date in terms of disasters but the problem was that the weight of it really didn’t come across. There’s no real indication that many people know what happened and the next scene just moves onto something else. Lyla does try to reassure Felicity that she has done the right thing but that’s about it.
I fully expect the ramifications of this to be explored in the coming episodes because it does qualify as a global tragedy that will affect a lot of people. Nukes are that weapon that is feared but never used so hitting a populated area with one with ripple throughout the world. I think it would have been much more effective if the impact had been what ended the episode to give us a week to let it sink in. It’s a really significant development so it shouldn’t have been glossed over the way it was. Seeing Damien Darhk gain more power can wait as it is definitely a much smaller issue in the grand scheme of things. I am really interested to see how this affects the characters from here on out.
Diggle is completely unravelling after killing Andy last week and Oliver notices but he latches onto the wrong details. He chooses to question why he lied to Lyla about the circumstances that led to him killing Andy. As far as she knows Diggle killed him in self-defence but the truth is a little different from that. Oliver is worried about his friend which is fair enough but choosing to focus on lying to Lyla is definitely the wrong approach. For one thing all it will do is make him feel worse about the choice that he made and he already feels bad enough about it already. David Ramsey does a great job showing Diggle coming apart at the seams but the conversation he has with Oliver about it could have been handled a lot better.
Quentin has the opportunity to resume his career provided he signs an affidavit stating that he didn’t know that Laurel was the Black Canary. Donna thinks that it’s wrong for him to sign that as it downplays what Laurel did. I’m not sure where she’s getting that from or what business it is of hers really. It’s not as if Quentin is signing an official declaration saying that he disapproves of her activities. All he is doing is saying that he knew nothing about them which is fine as far as I’m concerned. The fact that he knows the truth is all that’s important. Overall these scenes are completely pointless and don’t properly explore Quentin’s grief at this point.
The flashbacks are back this week and they’re as dull as ever. Mercifully they seem to be building to the endgame of this season now that Taiana seems to have become corrupted by the idol which ties into Oliver’s statement about seeing good people go bad. I’m still not interested in this story and really look forward to it ending.
A great episode that does make some missteps but not enough to hurt the overall experience too much. Team Arrow having their hands full is definitely a good move from a storytelling perspective and the perpetual countdown gives the episode plenty of urgency. The character beats involving Felicity and her father work really well and show a maturity from Felicity that has been lacking of late. The return of some old villains was a nice touch as well as it celebrates the mythology this show has built up. Sadly the flashbacks remain uninteresting but that isn’t going to change at this point and there was a pointless subplot with Quentin and Donna that really didn’t add much.
- the shocking end of the nuclear threat
- Felicity’s relationship with her father being explored in interesting ways
- returning villains
- an impressive sense of pace and urgency
- a pointless subplot involving Donna and Quentin
- Oliver’s focus on the wrong details when showing concern for Diggle
- the flashbacks, again with the flashbacks