Friday, 11 December 2015

Review - 'Arrow', S04E09 - 'Dark Waters'

The Flash brought us to its mid-season break with an episode that, while perfectly entertaining on its own, felt much more like a standard episode than it did any sort of finale. Arrow, on the other hand, has managed to bring us to this point in its own season with an episode that provided all of the drama and tension that its spin-off seemed to somewhat lack.

Oliver's mayoral campaign promise to clean up to the pollution if Star City's bay may have placed him publicly at odds with Damian Darhk - but, it also seems to have won him the approval of the city's residents. There were even an impressively large number of volunteers eager to turn up and take part in the clean-up operation - and, as the episode opens, we see this operation in progress, with Oliver feeling some well-deserved pride in what he had been able to achieve. Everything seems to be going quite well - at least, until the clean-up project is suddenly attacked, and many of the innocent volunteers are left seriously injured.

Understandably furious, and knowing Damian Darhk must have been the one behind the attack, Oliver soon comes to the conclusion that the only way he might be able to hurt Darhk would be to strip away the secrecy that he depends on, and draw him out into the open. Despite knowing that doing so would make Oliver, and everyone close to him, a public target, Oliver's team agrees - and so, Oliver arranges a public press conference in which he reveals Damian Darhk's identity as the leader of the 'Ghosts' who have been terrorising Star City, in the hope of turning the city against him.

It's fairly clear, from the moment that we see Darhk's reaction to this press conference, that there are going to be consequences, though. After all, Damian Darhk has been a dangerous enough foe even when he mostly seemed to be enjoying himself - so, how much more dangerous is he likely to be now that Oliver has successfully managed to make him angry? When Darhk does eventually retaliate, though, the results are more sudden and shocking then ever Oliver had anticipated. With Darhk crashing a party, and making off with Felicity, Thea, and Diggle, Oliver is forced to launch a desperate rescue mission.

Damian Darhk has been a fantastic villain throughout the season, so far - and, this episode does a great job of showcasing exactly why that is. Since his first appearance, Neal McDonough has been fantastic in the role - perfectly able to portray an odd charm that makes the character almost likable, while still being entirely convincing as a dangerously unhinged villain. Also, the mystical powers he has at his disposal makes him a unique challenge for our heroes. While, in the past, Darhk has occasionally seemed to be just another variation of the classic trope of the villain who thinks he is doing the right thing (with all of his talk about the city needing to die so that something new could grow) - but, here, he seems quite willing to fully embrace his role as the villain as he devotes himself to breaking Oliver's will by targeting the people he cares about.

It is also definitely interesting to see Oliver so quickly placed into such a vulnerable position by Darhk - seemingly willing to sacrifice himself to free his friends. But, of course, Oliver has a plan. Darhk still has no way of knowing that Oliver is actually the Green Arrow. Also, Oliver still has allies he can depend on - with Laural still being eager to help, Quentin Lance prepared to do what he can even it means revealing his true allegiance to Darhk, and Malcolm Merlyn making another of his surprise returns to the city just in time to help rescue his daughter.

The central plot-line of this episode would have been enough to make it a truly memorable, on its own - but, it's fair from the only highlight to be found here. Diggle's interaction with his brother, Andy (Eugene Byrd), adds another element of genuinely compelling drama - as we still have no way of truly knowing if Andy is the victim of brain-washing, of if he is genuinely loyal to Damian Darhk. David Ramsey was also particularly great in these scenes, as he gave us a clear look at the anger and betrayal that Diggle is feels toward his brother.

The 'flash-back' story-line also makes some fairly decent progress, despite once more feeling somewhat out of place. The plot-line of Oliver's efforts to uncover whatever mystical artifact Baron Reiter, before he can get his hands on them, remains interesting enough on its own, though - and, this episode definitely leaves things there on a tense note. But, the entire 'flash-back' structure has begun to feel like a relic of the first few season, which feels increasingly out of place. In the past, there was a direct connection between the 'past' and 'present' story-lines which seemed to strengthen the both (I'm thinking, mostly, of the second season, here). But, there did not seem to be any connection at all, in the previous season - and, here, we have only the vague suggestion that each plot-line seems to involve magic and mysticism, in some way. There's still plenty of time for a more direct connection to form when the show returns next year, of course - but, for now, the flash-backs feel like a distraction.

If there is any real issue with this episode, though, then it's only the fact that the cliff-hanger we are left on, in the main plot-line, felt fairly predictable. Throughout all of the action and dramatic tension of this episode, there is also room to devote a bit of time to Oliver and Felicity's relationship - with the two finding themselves in what, at first, feels like a classic 'romantic comedy' style scenario, when Felicity's mother finds the wedding ring that Oliver had intended to give her when he proposed back at the beginning of the season. Honestly, the fact that Oliver's decision not to propose to Felicity when they returned to Star City would suddenly be brought to the surface in the same episode where Damian Darhk is so set on hurting Oliver should be enough to set off some alarm bells for most of the audience.

That minor issue aside, though, this was a fantastic episode to bring us to the mid-season break. It's an episode that significantly raises the stakes in the escalating battle between Oliver Queen and Damian Darhk. It also firmly establishes Darhk as, quite possibly, the best villain we have had on Arrow, so far - assuming, of course, that he hadn't already reached that point.

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