This was the Choose Your Own Adventure episode of Arrow. In the mood for a night of gambling, mysticism and a guest actress employing a vaguely exotic accent? Follow Oliver and Felicity over to Hop City (seriously, that’s where they went). Feel a bit more like a bout of Death Wish revenge-seeking culminating in a motorcycle chase with a baby strapped to your back (again, seriously, that’s what happened)? Check out Diggle’s continually ill-advised hunt for Andy. Just want a good “all is not as it seems” twist? Why not check out the impossibly well-furnished, but underpopulated vacation destination Thea doesn’t actually remember entering into with her gorgeous boyfriend.
Regardless of whichever adventure you would have personally picked, it was always going to lead to the same destination, i.e., the inevitable point where all three of the so-called adventures come together. Diggle’s recklessness drew Damien Darhk and HIVE right to his wife and daughter, but Oliver’s newfound control of light-side magic (if that’s an accurate description) saved Lyla. Felicity’s well-timed van helped Diggle defeat and ultimately kill his crazy brother. However, they all screwed up enough that Darhk left with, essentially, the world’s nuclear launch codes, and once he scorches the Earth the chosen survivors will live in underground biodomes, which is where Thea is now trapped.
This isn’t exactly the first time Arrow has run with multiple storylines which are mostly unrelated for the majority of the episode. It was actually quite a common occurrence during the first season, particularly with the earlier episodes when Thea, Tommy and Laurel occasionally drifted off into their own, non-Oliver-related worlds. Sometimes the writers would try to at least establish a thematic connection between the main storyline and the side adventures, but as The Grinder recently argued most of the time the main storyline is clearly far more important.
“Genesis” felt like something new, though, at least for Arrow. There were three distinctively different versions of Arrow running concurrent to one another in “Genesis.” Oliver and Felicity’s adventure felt like a callback to a time when these people still occasionally dressed up and went to places serving champagne before veering off into the magic and mysticism that has defined so much of season 4. Diggle’s revenge quest was pretty much vintage Arrow, making it slightly amusing (in a dark kind of way) that Diggle used to single-mindedly hunt Deadshot for killing Andy and now he’s applying that same mindset to hunting Andy for killing Laurel. Thea’s visit to suburban hell, on the other hand, recalled Oliver and Felicity’s brief flirtation with suburbia at the beginning of the season. The way it resolved might have been Arrow‘s first true mind-fuck, although you easily could have seen the twist coming well before Thea did.
I’m unaccustomed to saying this, but I came away from the episode marveling at Arrow‘s newfound narrative ambition. Even though it was hamstrung by the show’s long-standing mistreatment of Laurel, when taken in a vacuum last week’s episode included several clever moments and was solidly structured around framing device-flashbacks to the final moment that Oliver broke Laurel’s heart. Now, “Genesis” divided the team into their own distinct adventures, and tied it all together in a final (sorta) mind-fuck moment. Good on you, Arrow writers.
Of course, admiration doesn’t automatically transfer over into enjoyment. It’s cool that they had everyone in their own adventure, but were any of those adventures worth watching? Frankly, I could have done without Oliver and Felicity’s entire journey since by this point I am beyond bored with the latest retreat of Oliver’s fight against his inner-darkness and Felicity’s position as the light in his life, and Thea’s part was fun but also one-note.
That leaves Diggle. I still don’t fully understand Andy’s motivations, although “Genesis” worked very hard in that department (A. He views Damien as his savior; B. He was forced into a cage and tortured by Diggle for three freakin’ months!). There might have been one too-many twists, with “Ha-ha-hah, you played right into my hands!” turning into “Actually, when I said, ‘You played right into my hands’ earlier and you believed me that’s when you truly played right into my hands!” Still, Diggle killing his own brother, and crying on his wife’s shoulder afterward is one of the stronger moments of the entire season, even if the actual shooting of his brother felt oddly censored.
1. Weekly Update from Pointless Island: Second week in a row with no flashback to the island. Yay! Instead, a couple lines of dialogue as well as a brief flash-forward during Oliver’s vision quest-esque moment indicated that his lady friend is going to turn stone-cold evil the next time we revisit the Lian Yu flashbacks. Bummer.
2. Nitpick: It was all in service to establishing tone and playing with our expectations, but Thea’s horror-movie moment of nervously exploring the house in her negilgee would have been greatly improved by her quickly grabbing a weapon and slipping into Speedy mode, reminding us that if there really was a home invader she’d whoop their ass. The way they played it established that her life is so tense post-Laurel’s death that a stray noise in the house is cause for heightened alarm, but her slipping into Speedy mode would have served a similar purpose of establishing how much she struggles to disconnect from her other life thus heightening the need for her to be on the vacation in the first place, i.e., she clearly needs to unwind.
3. Did It Make You Think Of…: Thea’s visit to a fake-seeming world and failed attempts to convince her companion of the charade going on around them reminded me of Donna Noble’s half of “Forest of the Dead” in Doctor Who‘s fourth season, i.e., when she’s stuck in a simulation which appears to progress forward at the same rate as a TV show. However, it is a pretty common sci-fi trope at this point, huh. Rick and Morty made fun of that in a season 1 episode.
4. There, I Said It: Darhk’s plan is so stupid.
5. There’s Something Missing: Those group shots of the team in the Arrow cave are definitely missing a little something without Laurel. In a very practical sense, it makes them look even more shorthanded. It’s definitely a good thing that Curtis will be a full-time character next season. Speaking of which, where the heck is he?