This week’s episode of Arrow re-introduced two elements from season three that didn’t, to be generous, necessarily work. One is Ray Palmer and the other is Donna Smoak. The former is a necessary evil, a pre-arranged dangling thread that needs to be tied off before Legends of Tomorrow can begin at midseason. The latter, well, has some kind of fascination either because we’re supposed to enjoy the ironic genealogy of Felicity’s mother, or because Charlotte Ross looks good in a cocktail dress. It’s a pretty thin line. Ray and Donna took their places in the A and B plot of this week’s Arrow, the question is whether they would ruin the show’s still wobbly season four momentum?
On the bright side, Arrow was still firing at the same speed as last week’s “Haunted,” in that we get an awful lot of story packed into a tight one-hour. On a micro level (heh) this episode was about finding Ray Palmer, recently discovered to be alive and well, but on the macro level it was a consideration about just how much our characters have changed, and whether or not they can embrace that change or refuse to accept it in order to hold on to something that isn’t there anymore. Or, more to the point, can change be a good thing?
At the center of the good/bad change debate was Felicity, who last week went to Curtis’ lab to hear Ray Palmer’s enhanced final message and apparently never left after finding out that Ray is still alive. It was perfectly predictable that Felicity would book a one way guilt trip concerning Ray’s precarious through still not-dead fate, it’s a hallmark of modern heroism that the hero frets over everything, but especially the stuff they can’t control. I suppose it’s not wrong for Felicity to feel bad about running Ray’s company and spending his money after leaving him cold and running off with the hotter, buffer bad boy that was treating her badly, but… You know what? Felicity should feel bad.
On the flip side, Ray was actually poorly drawn in the first place. It seemed like bringing Ray Palmer into the show started as a good idea along the lines of “Hey, what other DC Comics characters can we add?” and someone gave the Arrow writers a list, and the Atom was the least of possible bad option. Ray was a good foil for Oliver, a successful businessman and ideal romantic partner for Felicity. He also had an interesting “With great power…” angle by framing his decision to become the Atom as a way to honor the fiancee he wasn’t able to save. Instead we got the superhero version of The Nutty Professor, and Felicity was interested in Ray for all of three seconds till the next time Oliver took his shirt off.
All that was in the back of my mind as Team Arrow struggled to free Ray not just from the prison of Damien Darhk, but the *wee* prison of Damien Darhk. Not only did the heroes have to find a way to break into one of Darhk’s fortresses in order to spring Ray, they had to find a way to re-biggen him, a responsibility that fell on the shoulders of Curtis who actually gets to head out into the field with the rest of the gang. It really is a matter of time now that he’s made a full-fledged member of the Team Arrow right?
And while it was heartening to see the gang rally for Ray, let’s face it, he was kind of the Cousin Oliver of Team Arrow, and you can count on one hand the number of conversations he and Oliver had. Perhaps it’s a statement about how far the grim and gritty world of Arrow has come that no one stopped to argue the point of attacking Darhk headlong to rescue one man. Ray needed saving and the team rallied without complaint or resignation. Even Cousin Oliver is still family.
Of course, family was the other preoccupation of the week. Sara Lance’s return seems to be temporary at least in a Star City sense. Like Thea, she’s facing down post-Lazarus Pit rage issues that can only be slaked by cold blooded murder, but unlike Thea, one would think that as a former member of the League of Assassins, Sara might be better equipped to deal with that. Sure, the Kord Industries* security guard she wailed on was innocent, but snapping the neck of that H.I.V.E. stooge should have been no big deal.
*And for the record, this is the second mention of Kord Industries this season, and it was cited as Palmer Tech’s main competition in Star City. So really, who long until Blue Beetle enters the picture now?
Sending Sara out of town seems a random way to deal with her guilt or whatever, considering all the good will and patience her sister exhausted to bring her back from the after life. That is until Sara reveals that her first stop is Central City to visit her mom, and likely by coincidence help out the Flash – or Hawkgirl, or Firestorm – with something or other too. I haven’t been able to keep up with The Flash too much this season, so I’m forced to wonder if the Legend building has been this heavy handed over there as well.
But as one blonde looks to leave town, another looks to be staying a while. Donna Smoak’s sudden return seems to come quite out of nowhere in terms of both any kind of centrality to the story, and the production question of who, exactly, all these Donna Smoak fans are. Having said that though, they did seem to rein in some of Donna’s quirkier personality traits (read: she wasn’t as annoying this time out), I suppose that it would just make sense for Felicity’s mother to appear just when Felicity is feeling her lowest.
On top of all other concerns, Felicity starts to have doubts about her and Oliver’s relationship, how he’s being the perfect boyfriend by trading emojis with Donna and promising to exercise his newly refined culinary skills. It feels all rather dramatic that Felicity is now concerned about losing herself, her sense of personal animus, to Oliver, especially since she spent much of last year mopping over Oliver’s bi-polar treatment of her. People change, it’s inevitable, but it seemed as though Felicity’s relationship drama was just that, drama, because no one in television likes it when a couple is experiencing too much bliss.
Besides, there are much greater romantic entanglements coming to Arrow, and a chance meeting at the bar between Quentin and Donna. Captain Lance is a man that’s put up with a lot over the last three years, and has not got a lot of loving – or any – for his effort. So when a beautiful woman strikes up a conversation, and the two of them can bond over having willful blonde daughters… Well, I guess we’ll see if it’s a different type of magic other than that which Damien Darhk can conjure.