This fucking show.
At this point, I like to think that I’ve made my peace with what Arrow is at this point (or maybe I’m in denial). When a new friend tells me that they just binge-watched the first season on Netflix and loved it because it seems like the events in the show could actually happen in real life I smile wistfully, thinking, “I remember those days.” But, screw it, that was in the past. You want “Batman – The TV Show”? Watch Daredevil. You want a barely grittier version of The Flash? Watch Arrow. At this point, it is a comic book soap opera in the most comic book-y ways possible. Season 4 seems to know that in ways season 3 didn’t, and the show has arguably benefited as a result. Well, there were some hawk people around last week, but let’s agree to never speak of them again. Overall, though, the clearly lighter mood and tone has allowed the characters more room to actually have fun.
Even so, sometimes this show can be super, super dumb. “Dark Waters,” a ho-hum mid-season finale, is an example of that.
In this episode:
A group of well-meaning environmentalist, recruited by Oliver’s mayoral campaign, donate their early morning time to a clean-up effort in the Star City bay, but they are almost instantly fired upon by a drone plane. That led to a standard action movie moment of a little girl (in this case, basically mini-Felicity) freezing in fear and refusing to move out of the way of the thing coming straight at her, thus forcing Oliver to save the day.
Oliver announces Damien Darhk’s identity to the rest of Star City to publicly shame and challenge him, but when he urges caution afterward (“Dude’s obviously going to retaliate”) everyone acts like Oliver’s just being his normal controlling self instead of the only rational man in the group. Did they all completely forget that Darhk is essentially pure magic, and they have no idea how to kill him? The symbolic nature of not caving in to terrorists, especially if you’re an aspiring politician, is the main point as is the episode’s recurring theme of everyone asserting just how capable they are of defending themselves. Still, Oliver oddly seems like the only one who might realize that no amount of armed guards will truly protect them from Darhk.
Mama Smoak just randomly finds Oliver’s discarded engagement ring while going through Christmas decorations.
Felicity seems slightly more pre-occupied with the engagement ring than the imminent danger they’re all in.
Felicity realizes Oliver was going to propose to her months ago with that soufflé because Curtis’ husband just happens to joke that straight people usually propose to each other by hiding engagement rings in desert. It’s so funny that he’d say exactly what Felicity needed to hear. Go away now, Curtis’ husband. You’ve fulfilled your narrative function. Only come back when you have even spectacularly convenient lines of dialogue again.
Laurel stands firmly cross-armed and looks oddly more annoyed than concerned when trying to re-assure Oliver that Felicity, Thea and Diggle will be fine even though they have absolutely zero leads on where Damien Darhk took them.
Everyone continually cuts Laurel out of everything, from the fact that her dad has been Oliver’s inside man with HIVE for months or that her dad is dating Mama Smoak.
Darhk reveals his plan involves Nazi-like gas chambers to cull the population, and then as a display of the chamber’s effectiveness he executives a HIVE ghost wearing very concentration camp-like clothes. To top it off, he throws Felicity, the show’s only Jewish character, into the chamber along with Diggle and Thea.
Laurel saves the day by using her sonic choker-enhanced Canary cry, which is never not funny.
Plus, in the increasingly half-assed flashbacks Oliver goes mano-a-mano with a CGI shark lifted straight out of a SyFy Original Movie.
Individually, any one of those things might be par for the course for Arrow. Collectively, though, it seemed muddled, too silly for words and borderline offensive, all at the same time. Yet it was probably no different than The Flash’s similarly silly and muddled mid-season finale. Both shows have inarguably suffered from the seemingly endless Legends of Tomorrow set-ups, leaving each of them with precious little time to properly wrap everything up after the Heroes Unite two-parter. The result is “Dark Waters,” which was quite often made enjoyable solely due to Neil McDonough’s consistently daffy performance as Darhk. Plus, beyond the silliness there was clearly an effort to do something more here.
At this point, Arrow and The Flash are oddly running on nearly parallel tracks in one crucial area: the hero’s love life. Both Oliver and Barry Allen are wrestling with the idea of whether or not they can truly have it all, the danger and the girl. Oliver is clearly further along in his current relationship with Felicity than Barry is with Patty Spivot. However, it feels like both shows are hovering over that Spider-Man 2/Spider-Man 3 area of the superhero narrative where the guy attempts the noble, self-sacrifice route before the girl essentially tells him, “Buck up, Tiger. I’m not going anywhere.” That girl is then, inevitably, taken hostage and almost killed. It happened to Felicity in “Dark Waters,” and it will happen to Patty in The Flash’s first episode back from mid-season break.
However, in this age of what Scream Queens called “New New Feminism” how do you tell this kind of story anymore without seeming passé? The answer, as “Dark Waters” saw it, was to have every single female character in potential peril repeatedly claim their own agency. Thea doesn’t need nor she does she want Malcolm showing up to protect her. Laurel can take care of herself, thank you very much Overprotective Dad (who understandably protests that worrying about her is his eternal right as her father). Felicity, even as she’s being held prisoner by a madman, assures Oliver that she wants to marry him and accepts any danger that will come her way. Heck, she embraces it because with Oliver by her side she has a partner she’s ready to face the world with.
There’s a degree of more “telling than showing” here. For example, Thea standing up for herself sounds nice. Thea proving incapable of defending herself (or even putting up any sign of a fight) and ending up in the gas chamber doesn’t look so great. However, there is also an element of, for better or worse,genre convention here. The hero’s friends get taken hostage. A lot. That’s what happens in shows like this. It doesn’t always have to be the women. Diggle was in that chamber with Thea and Felicity, too.
But if there was a token effort to parallel Oliver, Quentin and Malcolm and their ongoing efforts to protect Felicity, Laurel and Thea respectively, the Oliver/Felicity pairing inevitably pulled focus. It is refreshing to see those two communicate so openly, even if he is still lying to her about his son. However, this ultimately feels like another victim to the way the season has had to devote so much time to Legends of Tomorrow. Oliver’s would-be engagement has been completely dropped since maybe the second episode, and his concerns over whether or not he can truly have it all with Felicity have kind of only barely been there throughout the half season. Their engagement should have felt like the satisfying and logical conclusion to a half season of build-up. The way it played out here? Not so much.
Oh, yeah, and also, Felicity might be dead. Had I mentioned that yet? No? Wow, I really buried the lead here. That’s mostly because despite whatever the trailer for the next episode implied I doubt she’s really going to die. We do finally have our answer as to whose grave that was in the flash-forward in the season premiere. No one came close to guessing it. No, it’s not Felicity. It was that poor limo driver who was just riddled with bullets. That’s who Oliver feels responsible for. That limo driver never would have been in that position if not for him. Poor, poor limo driver. We never even knew your name.