Thursday, 5 May 2016

Review - 'Arrow', S04E20 - 'Genesis'

Just as The Flash is setting events in motion for its final confrontation between Barry Allen and Zoom, as its second season draws to a close, so to is this fourth season of Arrow rapidly approaching its own final confrontation between Oliver Queen and Damian Darhk. Of course, freed from prison and with his formidable mystical powers restored, Damian Darhk may be more dangerous then ever before as he moves to re-establish himself as the leader of HIVE – even going as far brutally eliminating those among HIVE's leadership who were content to leave him in prison.

Believing himself to be essentially powerless against Darhk, in his current state, Oliver comes to the conclusion that what he really needs is some magical knowledge of his own – and, so, Oliver reaches out to John Constantine, hoping that his old ally can point him in the right direction. Constantine (who seems to have returned from the trip to Hell he had apparently taken the last time he was mentioned) directs Oliver to a casino in Hub City where, Constantine claims, Oliver will find someone that can teach him how to resist Damian Darhk's magic.

While it was definitely great to have John Constantine mentioned so directly on Arrow, once more, I do have to admit that it felt like a bit of a shame that this episode wasn't used as an opportunity to bring him back into the spot-light. Even if Constantine wasn't going to be the one to teach Oliver, he still could have put in an appearance. The opportunity for more of the entertaining banter that we had with John Constantine's last appearance would definitely have made it worthwhile. Unfortunately, though, it was not to be – and, instead, we had Felicity inviting herself along. With Laurel's death, Felicity clearly seems to have had something of a change of heart on her desire to officially retire from the team – and, now, with Oliver headed off on what is clearly another risky venture, she is adamant that he shouldn't have to do it alone.

While the fact that Felicity would be willing to put their somewhat strained history behind them in order to support Oliver was a nice character moment, I just think I've had enough of seeing Oliver and Felicity on-screen together. Stephen Amell and Emily Bett Rickards each managed to give a convincing portrayal of this awkward new phase of their long and complicated relationship, of course – but, it just feels like too much screen-time has been spent on the two of them over the season. I think the real issue is that I'm just a little burned out on 'Olicity' based drama and, at this point, I would have appreciated the opportunity to take a break from it.

Esrin Fortuna, the magical tutor picked out for Oliver by John Constantine who happens to be an immortal shaman with a fondness for blackjack (and, is played by Gabriella Wright), was a fascinating new addition to Oliver Queen's increasingly complicated world, though. Not only that, but she is exactly the sort of eccentric character that you can imagine someone like John Constantine knowing – so, her appearance here feels like a logical extension of officially bringing Constantine into this version of the DC universe.

It's really just a shame, than, that the magical training that she offers Oliver really doesn't amount to anything impressive. With the true source of Damian Darhk's powers coming from darkness and fear, it seems only logical that, in order to resist Darhk, Oliver would be required to learn how to channel light and hope – this whole balance of 'light' and 'dark' comes across as a very basic view of magic and mysticism, but it works well enough for the story they are trying to tell. The issue, of course, is that Oliver Queen may not actually have enough 'light' and 'hope' inside him to resist Darhk – and, if he doesn't, then he's only likely to make Darhk stronger. Realising this within moments of meeting Oliver, Esrin Fortuna seems surprisingly eager to abandon her efforts to teach him almost as soon as they have begun.

It all just felt very abrupt, though – and, it was a shame to see such a fascinating, and well-played, new character leave so soon after being introduced. Although, the revelation that Oliver may have discovered a way to channel 'hope' and resist Darhk's power, after all, at least means that it doesn't all end up feeling like a complete waste.

While Oliver and Felicity were off on their strange little side-adventure, Diggle comes across a lead on the location of his brother, Andy, that proves too promising to let pass. Unable to put aside his desire to see Andy punished for his latest betrayal, Diggle blindly pursues his brother – ignoring both the advice of his wife, Lyla, who urges him to wait for back-up, and his own common sense. The result of all of this, of course, is that Diggle managed to allow himself to be led into a fairly obvious trap – though, with his eventual escape proving to be surprisingly easy, it seems likely that the trap wasn't actually set for him.

It's fairly clear, at this point, that Diggle's anger over his brother's betrayal, and his lingering guilt regarding the circumstances of Laurel's death, are severely clouding his judgement – and, all of this leads to some great moments both between Diggle and Lyla, and Diggle and Andy. While Oliver's mission to uncover the secret to resistant Damian Darhk's magic may have been a little underwhelming, Diggle's desperate quest to track down Andy, and to protect the people he cares for once things take a drastic turn, is constantly compelling – and, it all adds up to some of the best material that David Ramsey, Audrey Marie Anderson, and Eugene Byrd have had in their time on the show. Diggle's relationship with his younger brother has already been a source of some great character drama over the course of this season – but, it all comes to a head in this episode, in a genuinely compelling manner.

Thea, meanwhile, finds herself drawn off into her own strange little side-plot when her plans for a weekend away with her current boyfriend, Alex Davis (Parker Young), take a very strange turn. With Alex working so closely with Ruvé Darhk, the thought that he might turn out to be secretly working with them had occurred to me, before – but, even still, this episode managed to take things in a surprising direction, and it left Thea in a uniquely precarious position.

So, with the twentieth episode of the season, we have significant movement on multiple fronts as we move toward the finale. The decision to put this season's flash-back story-line aside for this episode also felt like the right one, since it allowed each of the three equally important plot-threads explored, here, more room to develop. While some previous episodes have attempted to cram in too much, and have felt messy as a result, this one managed to get the balance right. If Arrow can maintain the strong sense of momentum that has been established, here, then the rest of the season should prove be genuinely exciting.

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