Quick. Re-watch “Blood Debts,” Arrow‘s mid-season premiere, and take a shot every time someone says either “blood lust” or some variation on “you should really go see Felicity, Oliver.” Better yet, also take a shot every time Laurel seems oddly detached from everything, almost like she understands she should be mad at Oliver and worried about Thea but is bored by the familiarity of it all and simply going through the motions.
Okay. At this point, that’s not really a drinking game anymore. That’s just you drinking while watching Arrow, and if any of your shots coincide with one of the repetitive elements of “Blood Debts” then so be it.
That doesn’t necessarily make “Blood Debts” a bad episode. Actually, I quite enjoyed it. As far as mid-season premieres go, it was quite the table-setter for the second half of the season:
-Diggle finally accepts who his brother really is thus opening the door for some bonding time.
-Laurel knows about Quentin and Mama Smoak’s relationship, and she’s cool with it.
-Quentin burned his bridge with Damien, and is now on the constant lookout for retaliation.
-Thea has more control over her blood lust than she thought, and finally takes the next step with Oliver’s gorgeous campaign manager.
-Damien Darhk’s wife is just as in on the whole “burn the world to save it” plan as her husband, and she doesn’t hesitate to suggest that they should have killed the Green Arrow when they had the chance because he’ll get in the way of their plans.
-Anarchy is back, pissed at Damien, preoccupied with Thea and still on the loose by the end of the episode.
-Damien’s war with the Green Arrow will take a break for a few weeks since the vigilante just saved the mad man’s family, but they are still enemies.
-Oliver is struggling to stick to his newer ideals and kinder, gentler Green Arrow persona if him going soft, so to speak, means he can’t truly protect the people he cares about.
-Felicity is paralyzed (for now), and worried that Oliver won’t want her anymore, especially since he spent most of the episode looking for Damien instead of being there for her. However, he is remarkably apologetic for having temporarily abandoned her, and quickly places the engagement ring back on her finger, declaring that he’s with her through “sickness and health.” Awww.
-We can scratch one name off the list of candidates for “Who’s in that grave four months from now?” Felicity is alive and grieving, and heartily endorses Oliver’s declaration that he has to kill that sonofabitch (presumably Darhk, but maybe even that is a misdirect). Plus, if you look closely you can see that the Felicity from four months from now is not wearing any kind of engagement or wedding ring anymore (at least not on the same hand or finger she was back in the hospital room).
-Also, the island flashbacks are still happening, and Oliver’s magical tattoo from Constantine saves his life as well as his lady friend’s when … honestly, I don’t care. But, hey, at least this whole thing is that much closer to being over now.
Watching “Bad Debts” was like watching a show take a collective sigh of relief. Similar to The Flash, everyone behind Arrow must simply be overjoyed that they can finally stop wasting their time on Legends of Tomorrow set-up and actually get back to telling their own stories. As a result, “Bad Debts” used the group’s concerns over Felicity’s health status as a way of advancing pretty much all of the ongoing storylines beyond the whole “Oliver’s lying to everyone about his secret son” thing.
Inevitably, Oliver and Felicity pull focus, and Oliver’s arc in this episode had a predictable beginning leading to a delightful ending. That flash forward to four months from now seems to imply that Oliver and Felicity are heading for a serious, engagement-ending rough patch, but here in the present it was genuinely touching seeing the two of them arguably growing even closer together in that hospital room. He recommits himself to her and their engagement. She rejects an offer to vacation in Bali because they can also vacation after stopping Damien Darhk, proving that her priorities perfectly align with Oliver’s.
The “vigilante goes super vigilante in response to a loved one being hospitalized” story is one I’ve seen done before multiple times, particularly on Angel, one of Arrow‘s spiritual predecessors. What I liked about Arrow’s take on it in “Blood Debts” is that Oliver, heeding Diggle’s warning, didn’t ultimately lose everything Felicity loves about him. That may yet happen in the coming episodes, but it was encouraging to see that Oliver’s half-season of growth wasn’t completely undone in a single episode. He reverted back to his old “kill or be killed” and “my way or the highway” methods, as you’d expect, but seemed to snap out of it in the end, particularly after realizing that his plan to release Anarchy to lead them to Darhk backfired because he hadn’t really thought it through in his fit of rage.
It was also encouraging that they didn’t go the predictable route of Felicity being angry at Oliver. Instead, she perfectly understands the situation. As Wendy Mericle told THR:
“The nice thing about Felicity and Oliver is that she’s been with him since season one. She understands who he is and what he’s been through. She knew and, I hope this played in that last scene with them in the hospital, she understood that this is what he was going to do. He wasn’t going to rest until Dahrk was off the board. Even though he doesn’t succeed in accomplishing that, he does realize his mistake. That’s what we love about this season. Oliver is evolving and he’s able to see, “Oh, that’s what old Oliver would have done, and this Oliver is not going to leave your side going forward.” That’s the progress he’s made.”
My only reservation might be that by this point I am beyond rolling my eyes whenever Damien makes his proclamations about bringing the world to an end to deliver it a new beginning. Ugh. This shit again. Really? Diggle even acknowledges in this episode that this is a similar tune to what Malcolm Merlyn was singing, just on a wider scale, and less motivated by any kind of “They killed my wife!” vengeance-seeking. However, this type of comic book villain scheming is easier to take on a small-budget TV show when its less grandiose, but a bad guy on Arrow threatening to end the world conjures snarky thoughts like, “Come on – you guys don’t have the budget to make any kind of legitimate world conquering seem believable. You need to be a Bond villain who’s oddly hyper-specific to one city which we all know is actually Vancouver.”
That being said, I might just be reacting against genre convention here, especially since when I think about it a villain who aims higher makes sense after they’ve already done a series of villains who just wanted to destroy Starling City.
1. Am I the only one who laughed out loud when they first showed Anarchy’s burnt face? I don’t know what I was expecting, exactly, but I was expecting something worse than that. His scars are at least more pronounced than the Beast’s on the CW version of Beauty and the Beast, but that’s a low bar.
2. Is Katie Cassidy phoning in her performance at this point? Or am I alone in thinking that Laurel seems oddly detached from everything?
3. “I know. I should have been here.” – Mama Smoak deserves a better answer than that for where the hell her daughter’s fiance has been the whole time.
4. So, exactly how long do we think Felicity will stay paralyzed? I give it three, maybe four episodes.