Thursday, 7 April 2016

Review - 'Arrow', S04E18 - 'Eleven-Fifty-Nine'

One of the more interesting sub-plots that has received some focus throughout the fourth season of Arrow has concerned Diggle's brother, Andy (Eugene Byrd), and his gradual process of redemption as he reconnects with his family. It's a plot thread that has only received a small amount of focus, overall – but, it has still offered a very interesting character-arc for both brothers, as they work toward re-establishing their brotherly bond.

The issue of exactly where Andy Diggle's loyalties may truly lay has brought back into focus at the end of the previous episode, when we were confronted with the revelation that Andy might still be working for Damian Darhk, after all. It was a development which, I admit, I had somewhat mixed feelings about. On the one hand, it promised interesting new elements of dramatic tension – but, on the other, it seemed to suggest that some fairly compelling character development was about to be tossed aside in favour of this latest 'shock' development.

Interesting, though, this episode almost immediately followed up on the previous one's reveal that Andy had been in contact with Malcolm Merlyn by having him instantly reveal the entire plan to his brother. So, using the information provided by Andy, 'Team Arrow' (still minus Felicity) are able to work to stop Merlyn's plan to break Damian Darhk out of prison. But, complications immediately present themselves when Andy's information proves to be little more than a distraction – ensuring that most of the team are split when Merlyn makes another of his (absurdly easy) sudden appearances in the team's base, set on stealing the idol that is the source of Damian Darhk's supernatural powers.

Despite being shattered by Vixen during its last appearance, it seems that the team have taken it upon themselves to put Darhk's idol back together (for reasons which, I have to admit, I'm not entirely clear on) – and, now keep it on display while they try to decide what to do with it. How Darhk or Merlyn could have known this is something that is never really explained – though, in the end, I suppose it doesn't really matter. What does matter, though, is that the idol is in Darhk's hands once more – and, with it, he will be able to reacquire the mystical powers that made him so dangerous. Or, at least, he would – if it weren't for the small, though significant, piece of the idol that 'Team Arrow' were clever enough to remove, and hide elsewhere.

More importantly, though, there is the issue of whether Andy Diggle can actually be trusted. Did Merlyn deliberately mislead Andy, knowing where his loyalties truly were? Or, did Andy deliberately mislead the team?

It is these questions that are truly at the heart of the story, here – and, unfortunately, it is these questions that are the source of my major problem with this episode. Unfortunately, the conflict that crops up between Oliver and Diggle, regarding Andy's true loyalties, simply feels too abrupt and heavy-handed. Oliver's suspicions of Andy, for example, are played to such a pointlessly aggressive extreme that, at one point, he is even willing to threaten Andy with torture just to confirm his suspicions by forcing a confession. Diggle, meanwhile, is so entirely convinced of his brother's innocence that he is even willing to point a gun at Oliver (admittedly, this occurs when Diggle walks in on Oliver threatening his brother – but, still....)

Honestly, this entire plot-thread was a source of genuine frustration, for me. I actually spent the majority of the episode hoping that Andy wouldn't turn out to be a traitor, for no other reason than that I didn't want to see Oliver's over-blown suspicions proven correct, and his threats of torture justified. While any scene devoted to the escalating tension between Oliver and Diggle, with regard to Andy, was obviously supposed to be tense and emotional, I didn't actually feel that – instead, I just felt a little irritated.

Beyond this, though, this proved to be an eventful episode in a variety of other ways, too. Laurel was caught by surprise when she found herself offered the position of District Attorney – a role that would put her in a good position to work against Darhk's wife, Ruvé Adams (Janet Kidder), who seems destined to become Star City's next mayor. Of course, it is also a role that would place her under a great deal of scrutiny – and, so, would require her to give up her double-identity as the Black Canary. It was definitely an interesting development – and, something that would have finally given Laurel Lance a fairly significant plot-line to follow throughout the rest of the season. Or, at least, it would have – if not for the fact that this new plot-thread was almost immediately derailed by the end of the episode.

This episode's 'flash-back' story-line continues to develop into something interesting, now that Baron Reiter's true purpose on Lian Yu has finally been revealed. I do have to admit that, while it may have been obvious to more observant audience-members, I didn't pick up on the fact that Damian Darhk's idol was actually the same one uncovered by Baron Reiter, here, until the episode went out of its way to make the connection clear, for me – but, it was definitely interesting to finally see a direct connection between the two story-lines. With Oliver and Taiana now entirely committed to leading the fight against Reiter's forces, there are also some wonderfully tense moment of action in this episode's flash-back – which goes some way toward making up for the somewhat slow pace of this story-line, so far.

There were, also, some fantastic moments of action in the 'present-day' story-line, as well. First, we had Malcolm Merlyn's attack on the team's base, which resulted in a couple of very entertaining and well-choreographed action-sequences – with Thea and Laurel forced to take on Merlyn, and some of his own faction of still-loyal assassins, by themselves. Then, later, we had an even more impressive series of action-sequences, when Darhk's planned escape escalated to tense conflict between 'Team Arrow' and escaped prisoners who have allied themselves with Damian Darhk.

Overall, this was an episode that had some great moments of drama and tense excitement – but, for me, it was let down by the fact that I just couldn't feel invested in Oliver and Diggle's conflict over Andy. It was a contrived moment of drama that hinged on behaviour from both men which, at this point, felt a little out-of-character. Oliver's suspicions, and his exaggerated aggression, may have fit with his portrayal back in the first season – but, here, it just felt out of place. Meanwhile, Diggle's complete faith in his brother came across as bordering on naive, given the events of the recent past. With so much history between them, I would much rather seen their disagreement regarding Andy Diggle play out in a much more nuanced and, more importantly, civil manner.

Despite that, though, this was still an episode which managed to feature some great moments – and, it came to a close with some new developments that promise to significantly impact the course of the rest of the season. I may have tip-toed around them, here – but, if you've seen the episode, you know what I'm talking about.

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