The penultimate episode of this season of The Flash had proved be a somewhat underwhelming affair, despite the clear promise that it had seemed to hold. With Arrow also moving closer to the end of its current season, I have to admit to feeling some concern about whether it, too, might ultimately fail to measure up to my expectations. It is, of course, entirely unfair to judge one series by what occurs in the other, regardless of how intertwined they often are – I'm well aware of that. But, in this case, I'm afraid that I just couldn't help myself.
Keeping up at the very moment at which the previous episode ending, with Oliver and Diggle tracking down Damian Darhk just as he requires new-found power, this episode certainly did manage to get off to a great start. The fact that this opening scenes ended with Darhk falling into the classic 'overconfident villain' trap of not simply killing his adversaries when he had them at his mercy was a bit bothersome, sure – but, it was still difficult to deny that the display of Darhk's newly acquired power was very impressive.
Elsewhere, Felicity is left reeling from the part she had inadvertently played in the destruction of the small town of Havenrock, and the death of every inhabitant. Her efforts to save Star City, by blocking Darhk's access to Rubicon, the cyber-weapon through which he was able to gain access to the world's supplies of nuclear weapons, and redirecting the one nuclear missile that had successfully launched, may have been successful – but, the cost is definitely weighing on her.
Or, at least, that seemed to be the case of a brief moment. Felicity's father, Noah Cutler, might have been entirely right when he argued that they needed to put aside their grief and focus on keeping the rest of the world's nuclear stock-piles out of Damian Darhk's hands, but the ease with which Felicity seemed to be able to do that still stood out as very strange. With Felicity focused on working with her father to prevent Darhk from regaining access to Rubicon, she simply seemed to shift too far into her usual 'upbeat' personality – which, given the circumstances, just felt a bit wrong.
That wasn't the only issue with this particular plot-line, though. While it was great to see Curtis Holt (Echo Kellum) again, and he did provide some amusing moments, it just didn't feel as though his presence was necessary. It felt as though this plot-line would have played out much the same if Curtis had never put in an appearance – which means that this episode provided yet another example of an entertaining supporting cast-member simply being poorly utilised (which is something that both Arrow and The Flash has struggled with).
Beyond that, I also had some fairly significant problems with Donna Smoak's presence, in this episode. I don't have any real issue with the character in general, of course – but, it just seemed as though her only purpose, here, was to inject an element of family drama where it really wasn't needed. The lingering issues between Donna and Noah, and the impact that their separation had on Felicity, are matters that would have been worth addressing at some point, certainly – but, not here and now. It felt as though this should have been saved for a quieter moment, when the stakes weren't quite so high.
One final note – unfortunately, as high as the stakes were here, it seems as though scenes of people frantically typing away at keyboards are simply never going to be as tense or dramatic as the people behind Arrow seem to want them to be. Even throwing some implausible electric surges into the mix doesn't really help.
While this plot-line may have been somewhat underwhelming, the one taking place in HIVE's underground sanctuary proved to be much more compelling. With Thea drugged, and under HIVE's control, and Lonnie Machin still free, Oliver and Diggle soon find themselves in well over their heads – especially when Ruvé Darhk and Malcolm Merlyn work to turn the entire community against them. More than anything, what this plot-line offered was some genuinely great action sequences – with the moment in which Oliver and Diggle found themselves pursued by HIVE soldiers standing out as especially entertaining.
Oddly enough, though, the true high-light of this episode could very well be Lonnie Machin – with his increasingly unhinged desire for revenge on Damian Darhk proving to be a very effective, and very entertaining, 'wild-card' throughout both the previous episode, and this one – adding an extra element of chaos to what would have, otherwise, been a fairly straightforward confrontation. Beyond that, his bizarre fixation on Thea (because, repeatedly referring to the one responsible for his burned face as 'mommy' couldn't be anything other than bizarre) makes for a very interesting little quirk. While, i have to admit, I wasn't much of a fan of the character back when he first appeared, I was still able to admit that there was some potential, there – and, that the writer's might be able to slowly develop him into a more interesting character. So, it is very interesting to finally see that potential beginning to be realised.
While neither truly a weak-point for the episode, or a strength, this episode's contribution to the season's 'flash-back' story-line felt especially out of place, here. Much like with the previous season, this sub-plot, while still interesting enough in its own right, just hasn't seemed to contribute anything to the season's main arc. There hasn't been a clear connection between the 'present day' and the 'flash-back' plot-lines since the second season – leaving us with two completely separate stories that don't always mesh very well. That being said, though, the idea of Taiana slowly being corrupted by the magic of the idol, until she becomes as much of a threat as Baron Reiter, still provides some genuinely tense moments – even if Elysia Rotaru didn't seem to be quite up to the task of portraying this aspect of her character, giving a performance that seemed to be a bit too over-the-top.
The penultimate episode of the fourth season of Arrow does a good job setting the scene for the final confrontation, despite its weaker elements. The family drama that we had with Felicity might have felt out of place, and the 'flash-back' story-line might not have contributed anything of use, but both of those issues were effectively balanced by what the episode managed to get right. Oliver and Diggle's efforts to rescue Thea from HIVE's sanctuary provided some impressive action sequences – and, Lonnie Machin proved to be a surprisingly effective 'wild card', with his intervention managing to derail just about everyone's plans.
In the end, the scene is set for what should be, hopefully, a genuinely exciting season finale.