Maybe just saying this is going to jinx the whole thing, but Arrow has been on a roll. After last week’s epic finale to the League of Assassins story arc, the show proved this week that by returning to the main plot of season four, and the villainy of H.I.V.E. and Damien Darhk, it lost none of the momentum its been building up over the last couple of entries. Even the unusually heavy does of relationship drama, not to mention the focus on Oliver’s mayoral campaign, didn’t dull the energy in what was, essentially, a set-up episode.
Adding a lot of that energy was James Bamford, Arrow’s stunt co-ordinator who previously cut his directorial chops with this season’s “Brotherhood.” There, as here, one can tell that Bamford has spent some long days on the Arrow set wondering how we would capture those awesome superhero fights he puts together if he were the one behind the camera. Once again, Bamford gets his steady cam right in there to capture the action; sliding under tables with Speedy, getting into tight corners with Green Arrow, gently gliding past Black Canary’s fight with one Ghost, to Spartan’s fight with another one floor below. It was smooth, but it was fast-paced and edge of your seat. In terms of direction, the show’s really gone up a notch this season.
Another asset to the week’s adventure was the characterization. Although some of it was overly sentimental and melodramatic, and we’ll be dealing with that in a minute, a lot of it was funny, charming and insightful. The presence of Captain Lance has been sorely missed the last few weeks (I know he was in last week’s episode, but honestly, it was barely a cameo), and the fact that they dedicated some time to not just his ill-advised dalliance with Donna Smoak, but in trading quips with his daughter Laurel was a nice touch for the both of them.
Another nice touch was having Thea catch on to Oliver’s big secret, that he has a son named William. It led to wonderfully thought out and executed heart-to-heart between brother and sister that for once wasn’t about them yelling their feelings at the other. There’s a genuine sweetness in the way that Thea says that she would love to be an aunt, and there’s a true sense of loss and confusion in Oliver as he struggles with his desire to tell Felicity the truth, but wanting to keep his promise to William’s mother Samantha. The episode put a big premium on being honest, but it also put a premium on understanding that lying to protect a loved one is sometimes okay too.
Speaking of Oliver, he officially met the enemy this week, and by that we don’t mean Damien Darhk, but his new opponent in the mayoral race, Mrs. Darhk AKA: Ruvé Adams. Although Team Arrow’s well co-ordinated attempts to follow Adams back to he husband’s new HQ don’t pan out well, the political encounters between Oliver and Adams had their own sizzle. Oliver’s not so subtle jab about Adams “sudden” appearance on the Star City political radar had its own snarky tension, but after the Ghosts try to blow up the debate venue, Oliver’s remark about the crowd’s applause nearly “bringing down the house” was a verbal slam on par with some of Green Arrow’s fisticuffs. Still, with Malcolm Merlyn now officially on Team H.I.V.E. we’re forced to wonder just how much Adams knows about Oliver.
The political struggle for Star City was top of mind this week because apparently H.I.V.E.’s fifth phase of their master plan involves controlling city hall. Some members of the group have doubts about Adams, but only one of them dared to articulate those doubts in front of Darhk. It’s interesting that the season is almost two-thirds over, and the full extent of H.I.V.E.’s agenda has yet to be revealed, and the complete extent of Darhk’s powers and his origins are also still rather nebulous. Does it matter though? There’s almost a sense that Darhk is less the adversary and more of a MacGuffin, a way by which the writers can make Team Arrow the force we’ve wanted to see since they tore the whole thing up last season.
Of course the H.I.V.E. story is going somewhere, but the threat this week helped inform the personal development of Captain Lance, who becomes the target of payback by Darhk and his mad bombers. It was a bit disappointing that Lance’s comment about how the explosion seemed to follow him in the attempt on his life didn’t turnout to be the work of some meta-human that can turn random objects into bombs or something, it was just three ex-military types that know their stuff (one of them being Rachel Luttrell, Teyla Emmagan of Stargate: Atlantis fame). It also seemed like overkill considering the way the bombers were able to level whole office buildings without much care for the collateral damage. It did set the stakes rather high, but maybe the producers were doing an homage to Man of Steel in advanced of Batman V. Superman’s release.
The attempt on Captain Lance prompts him to push Donna away with a half-assed story about owing money to loan sharks for gambling. Donna, who notes that the two best things that came from her marriage are her daughter and an astute B.S. detector, doesn’t buy it for a minute, spurring an utterly unoriginal romantic snafu on the epic romance that’s supposed to be Quentin and Donna. Except no one’s buying it really. Not that it’s so impossible that these two crazy kids can’t make it work, even Donna is growing on me, but it seems completely unearned our investment in them as a couple, especially with Lance benched for much of the last stretch of episodes.
The only other thing that irked me in this week’s episode was the end when Curtis presents Felicity with an engagement gift, a magical microchip that will allow her to walk again. Not a surprising development, but one that seems to have been sprung fairly quickly considering that it’s just been four episodes that Felicity’s had to deal with her wheelchair. The show did such a great job of showing Felicity adjust, and without a hint of self-pity or overly-wrought depression masquerading as catharsis, and now we have deus ex microship because no one born with the use of their legs is complete until they get them back. Sorry, that may be over the top, but that’s the message we’re getting here.
But those are small quibbles with an episode that had so much more going for it than against it. It also made me forget that pendulum doom that’s been hanging over the show since the beginning of the season, right up the very last moment when Damien Darhk introduces his daughter to William who will be “staying with [them] for a while.” Uh, oh. One can’t help but wonder what William’s mother might have had to say about that…