Friday, 13 May 2016

Review - 'Arrow', S04E21 - 'Monument Point'

The previous episode of Arrow had brought things to a close on a very dramatic note. The exact details of HIVE's master-plan had finally been revealed – and, as it turns out, there was much more at stake than simply a single city. More than that, though, Damian Darhk had managed to get his hands on exactly what he needed to finally put this plan in motion – a means of accessing nuclear stockpiles all over the world, in preparation for a devastating attack.

While HIVE's master-plan seems to centre around the highly misguided goal of tearing down a corrupt world so that something new can grow in its place, it also seems as though Darhk also had plans of his own in motion. After all, with death and destruction having already been revealed as the true source of his magical power, it seems clear that HIVE's plan will also have the unavoidable side-effect of making Damian Darhk stronger than he has ever been before. Clearly, the stakes are higher than they have ever been for 'Team Arrow', as they find themselves fighting to prevent a nuclear apocalypse – and, in doing so, quite literally fighting to save the world.

Despite her own formidable skills, Felicity soon comes to the realisation that they are going to need a bit of extra help keeping the world's nuclear stockpiles out of Damian Darhk's hands – they are going to need Felicity's father, Noah Cuttler (Tom Amandes), also known as the Calculator. The only problem, though, is that Damian Darhk has also realised that the Calculator might be able to hinder his plans, and he has also taken action – recruiting returning villains Brick (Vinnie Jones) and Murmer (Adrian Glynn McMorran) to hunt down, and kill, the infamous hacker.

Thea, meanwhile, has found herself trapped in HIVE's underground sanctuary – having been brought there Alex Davis (Parker Young), who know seems to be firmly under HIVE's control. Trapped and very angry, Thea is not at all surprised when she learns that her own father, Malcolm Merlyn, has also taken up residence in HIVE's sanctuary. Merlyn, it seems, is entirely on board with Damian Darhk's plans – since, as he points out, there are actually quite similar to his own plans from back in the show's first season, just on a much larger scale. But, of course, Thea has grown increasingly frustrated with her father's horribly misguided efforts to 'protect' her, so she doesn't prove all that willing to listen to Merlyn's justifications.

Things take another unexpected turn for Thea, though, when another returning villain, Lonnie Machin (Alexander Calvert) manages to find his way into HIVE's sanctuary, still clearly intent on having his revenge on Damian Darhk. However, with Machin's current plans involving sabotaging the sanctuary's air filtering system, and killing everyone currently taking up residence in the sanctuary, Thea and Malcolm realise that they will need to work together to stop him.

"Busy" is really the only word that comes to mind for this episode of Arrow. On top of everything described above, there is also screen-time devoted to the next chapter of of this season's 'flash-back' story-line – and, there is also time spent on a minor sub-plot for Donna Smoak and Quentin Lance. While, in the past, an episodes that have attempted to juggle this many elements have always been at risk of collapsing under her own weight, this episode seems to manage to strike a good balance between its different plot-threads.

That's not to say that each separate plot-line was equally successful, though. This season's flash-back story-line feels as though it has been treading water for the past few episodes – and, that remains true, here. On paper, the idea of a story concerning Oliver's first encounter with magic sounds fascinating – and, even in practise, Oliver's battle with a mystically empowered Baron Reiter manages to come across as suitably tense. But, what should have been a single scene taking place over a single episode has, instead, been chopped up and spread out over several – which makes it increasingly difficult to maintain any sense of momentum, or to feel any real investment. Also, while screen-time devoted to Quentin and Donna, here, does serve as a good reminder that the two are, actually, romantically involved, it feels a bit strange to devote screen-time to what is, essentially, a minor disagreement – especially given how high the stakes where, elsewhere. It also came across as a bit strange to see Donna taking the moral high-ground with Quentin with regard to his reaction to the death of his own daughter. Given the level of secrecy that is always supposed to surround this sort of vigilante activity, I can't really imagine that Laurel would have disapproved of Quentin's decision to sign an affidavit indicating that he never knew that Laurel was the Black Canary. So, having Donna Smoak put her foot down and insist that Quentin tell the truth, even if it might ruin his chances of ever being allowed to return to active duty as a police officer, felt a bit strange – and, very unearned.

Each of the episode's primary plot-lines managed to inject an impressive amount of very genuine tension into the episode, though. The very literal 'race against time' element that we had with the team's efforts to prevent Darhk's from gaining access to any nuclear weapons was especially effective. Along with the very genuine tension, though, we also had time for some great character moments – particularly between Felicity and her father.

Noah Cuttler continues to be a very interesting character, here. He is a criminal, sure – but, he also genuinely cares about the welfare of his daughter. Or, at least, that is how it appears on the surface. It is just as likely that, as Felicity suspects, he may just be biding his time until he finds some way to gain the upper hand. At this point, we just have no real way of knowing which is going to prove to be the cast – and, that makes his role in this episode especially fascinating.

Thea's side of the story, meanwhile, provides an interesting point of conflict, with the idea that Thea might genuinely be willing to work with Lonnie Machin to get at Damian Darhk, but that she just isn't willing to sacrifice HIVE's brainwashed victims in order to do so. Lonnie, himself, also seems to be increasingly unhinged with each appearance – with his time on-screen, in this episode, proving to be an especially entertaining display of 'scenery chewing' insanity. The stakes may not be quite as high, but it is still a very entertaining sub-plot.

As the first part of the season's final arc, this episode did a great job of establishing the increasingly high stakes as we move into the final two episodes. It also manages to end on a surprisingly tragic note that should have heavy repercussions for much of the cast (though, particularly Felicity) – and which should, hopefully, lead to some very interesting moments of drama in the future. At this point, it just remains to be seen whether Arrow can maintain the strong sense of forward momentum that it has been able to establish, here.

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