Friday, 29 January 2016

Review - 'Arrow', S04E11 - 'A.W.O.L.'

Episodes that place a greater focus on John Diggle have always been have always been a clear highlight of Arrow, for me. Even if the episodes, themselves, often don't turn out as well as I might have liked (which has, unfortunately, been the case in the past), David Ramsey has always been so great in the role that I am always glad to see him given more to do than simply lending his support to Oliver. Similarly, Andy Diggle (Eugene Byrd) has been a fascinating new element since he was introduced as one of Damian Darhk's loyal soldiers a few episodes ago - and, the scenes between the two brothers have made for some great character drama. With the Diggle brothers finally seeming to have found some common ground only recently, it would seem to make sense to place the focus solely on them, here.

Despite being officially done with the clandestine operations of Amanda Waller (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), and ARGUS, Diggle finds himself drawn back into that shady world when a compromised ARGUS agent reaches out Lyla (Audry Marie Anderson) - retired ARGUS agent, and Diggle's current wife. Only moments after making contact, though, the agent is kidnapped - leaving Diggle and Lyla to sort out the mess that they have suddenly found themselves in.

Soon finding themselves forced to reach out to ARGUS once more, they learn that Amanda Waller has been running secret operations to uncover information about another mysterious organisation called 'Shadowspire' - and, that the recent attack was obviously Shadowspire's retaliation. Beyond that, Diggle also learnt of a surprising connection between this new organisation and his own brother, Andy.

With Diggle only recently starting to come to terms with his younger brother's connection to Damian Darhk's HIVE organisation, the revelation that Andy had also been previously associated with yet another mysterious and sinister organisation obviously doesn't sit well with him - ultimately threatening to erode whatever small measure of trust has grown between them. But, Andy also knows how Shadowspire operates, which makes him a valuable source of information now that it seems that the organisation is active in Star City - especially when it turns out that Shadowspire's true target might, in fact, be ARGUS's base of operations, itself.

After the increasingly outlandish story-lines of both Arrow and The Flash (not to mention Legends of Tomorrow), it almost feels a little strange to suddenly find ourselves back with some as comparatively mundane as this - with the clandestine operations of sinister militaristic organisations momentarily replacing magic and time travel as the main driving force of the plot. But, it is also the sort of story which suits a character like John Diggle - a trained soldier who lives by a strong moral code. And, the sudden return of ARGUS is also a good reminder, for the audience, that Lyla also her own share of skills to offer as she, too, finds herself caught in the middle of the escalating conflict between ARGUS and Shadowspire.

This episode's flash-back story-line also seems intent on taking a quick break from the magic and mysticism of Oliver's adventures on Lian Yu - focusing, instead, on the Diggle brothers experiences serving overseas, and showing us the earliest moments of Andy's association with Shadowspire. Of course, this side-plot does also allow for an interesting twist with the sudden inclusion of Baron Reiter (Jimmy Akingbola) who, it seems, is also a high-ranking member of this sinister organisation (possibly even its true leader). Obviously, this was only a small moment (showing us how Baron Reiter first came to learn of the location of Lian Yu), but it also gave us a much needed possible connection between this season's 'flash-back' story regarding Baron Reiter's search for magical artifacts on Lian Yu and the modern day conflict which will, hopefully, receive more attention in the future.

Of course, while this would be more than enough to carry the episode on its own, there is obviously more ground that needs to be covered, here. With Felicity only recently released from hospital, and bound to a wheel-chair as a result of her injuries, it makes sense that the episode would also find time to explore the aftermath of her own near-death experience. The idea that Felicity would find herself caught up in a period of doubt and self-pity, as she wonders at her own ability to contribute anything of value to the team, is not an entirely unexpected development - nor does it have to be a negative one, since moments like this can lead to important character growth. What did strike me as strange, though, was the decision for Felicity's moment of doubt to be manifested in something as inherently silly as an hallucination of her past self.

The whole idea of Felicity having imaginary conversations with an hallucination of her younger self (whose distinctly 'goth' appearance you might remember from an earlier episode) instantly struck me as simple too absurd to be taken seriously in a show which, however outlandish it might occasionally be, still tries to hold itself to a serious tone. These moments may have given Emily Bett Rickards some great material to work with as she was, effectively, required to play two versions of the same character in the same scene - but, unfortunately, this whole sub-plot still became a low point of the episode, for me. I actually spent much of the episode hoping that there would turn out to be something else behind these hallucinations (something more interesting than her own self-pity, and the side affects of her medication, at least) - but, there wasn't. In the end, she really was just hallucinating

Honestly, by the end of the episode I had to content myself with just being glad that, other than a brief scene between Felicity and Oliver, no other characters were dragged into this bizarrely out-of-place sub-plot. I would have hated, for example, to have been forced to watch a dramatic scene between Diggle and his brother be ruined because Felicity's imaginary friend was loitering in the background.

The episode wasn't a complete loss for Felicity, thankfully. This episode did do a good job of showcasing Felicity's growth over the years - with this image of a younger self, from a time in her life when she was angry at the world, clearly representing something that she was eager to let go. And, the episode also did a good job of showing the audience the mutual love that has grown between Oliver and Felicity, and the mutual support that they lend to each other. I just wish that it wasn't all represented by a literal hallucination - because, I really did have a very hard time accepting that.

So, overall, this episode featured some fantastic episode concerning Diggle and his younger brother learning to trust each other as they confronted a mysterious new threat, and one absurd story-line concerning Felicity's conversations with her imaginary friend. But, there were also some great moments for Felicity here, in spite of that nonsense - with Felicity finally earning herself her own code-name, 'Overwatch', as she finally officially rejoined the team (amusingly, Oliver had considered 'Oracle', but it was taken. I have to assume that this was just a little fourth-wall breaking joke, rather than an admission that there actually already is an 'Oracle' in the show's take on the DC universe - since, the implications of that would be pretty overwhelming). In spite of my issues with Felicity's sub-plot, then, I still have to come to the conclusion that this was up there among the season's best episodes, so far.

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