I’ve been hard on Arrow the last two episodes. They’ve been stupid and repetitive and I went into this week expecting more of the same. However, shockingly, last night’s episode wasn’t just the best of the season so far, it was actually good. That was almost entirely thanks to the oldest members of Team Arrow, Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) and Diggle (David Ramsey).
Let’s start with Ms. Smoak. At the end of last season, Team Arrow’s resident comic relief faced one of the most complex moral dilemmas this show has every posed: unable to stop a nuclear missile headed toward a major city, Felicity had to redirect it toward the much smaller Havenrock, sacrificing thousands of lives to save millions. Unfortunately, the show was too busy dealing with Damian Darhk (Neal McDonough) to deal with her feelings at the time, but Felicity was forced to confront what she’d done in this episode thanks to Team Arrow’s newest recruit: Ragman (Joe Dinicol). Though Oliver (Stephen Amell) presumably told Felicity Rory was the last surviving citizen of Havenrock a week ago, she still hadn’t told Rory when this episode started. Thankfully, Curtis (Echo Kellum, whose boundless energy is making this tired, old vigilante training arc seem fun and fresh) reminded her that if the show has taught us anything, lying to people never ends well. Felicity displayed true character in owning up to what she’d done, something these characters usually aren’t very good at—kind of like Diggle.
Last year’s Andy Diggle (Eugene Bird) storyline was one of the show’s worst ever, but it’s impossible to deny that killing him had a profound effect on John. Even so, it was difficult to believe he’d give into his self-loathing these last few months considering he’s been lecturing Oliver about it for four straight years. However, with one simple hallucination plot, the show justified it in a brilliant way. Arrow never met an emotional problem it couldn’t solve with this lazy, soapy device, but by pairing John with Deadshot (Michael Rowe), the show emphasized that John’s turmoil springs from the fact that he’s now become his worst nightmare. It was shocking and upsetting to listen to him tell Lyla (Audrey Marie Anderson) that there was “something wrong” with him and that he deserved to rot in prison for crimes he didn’t commit. Lyla, of course, went directly to Team Arrow for help, but even if Oliver and company do break Diggle out of prison next week, there’s no easy solution to the guilt John’s feeling right now. Watching him struggle to regain his self-worth is going to be a really great arc for the rest of the season.
However, while Felicity and Diggle helped make this episode the best of the season so far, the sad fact is, they are the B plots. Oliver is the main character and he is bringing the whole show down with him. To be clear, Amell is still doing solid work, but even he most be tired of playing the same beats over and over. Last week, Oliver’s storyline was all about cleaning up Wild Dog’s (Rick Gonzalez) messes and Felicity lecturing him into trusting his new partners. This week repeated that arc almost exactly. Sure, this iteration had the added nuance of Oliver pointing out that Wild Dog can’t expect Oliver to trust him until he gives him a reason to, but that storyline was still more interesting when they did it with Roy (Colton Haynes) or Thea (Willa Holand) or even Laurel (Katie Cassidy). I’d like to think there’s a reason we’re seeing this arc yet again, but after this episode, I’m beginning think the writers simply don’t know what to do with Oliver anymore.
Nowhere was that clearer than in the mayor drama of the week. Unsurprisingly, Thea’s decision to appoint Quentin (Paul Blackthorne) as Deputy Mayor created a scandal. While his anger at being ignored is justified, listening to Oliver unironically lecture her about his responsibility to voters when he just started caring about them, like, yesterday was the height of hypocrisy. Oliver keeps telling us he cares about Star City, but his behavior betrays the selfishness and ego that really drive him. That’s even true of the long-awaited Bratva flashback storyline. In theory, his goal is to avenge the island girl whose name nobody remembers from last season. In practice, this is little more than a retread of all the other flashback storyline: Oliver gets tortured emotionally and physically and then retreats into himself until he finally does something heroic. We’ve seen it already and we know where it’s going anyway.
In order for Arrow to return to its former greatness, it desperately needs to do something about its titular hero. Yes, Oliver is at a low point in his life and while he doesn’t necessarily need to be likable (though that would help), he at least needs to evolve from the brooding, somewhat opaque guy we met in season 1. Until then, Felicity, Diggle, Thea and even Curtis are the only reason to watch. I’d like to believe that the show can–for our sake and Amell’s–fix its Oliver problem, but I’ve been watching this show too long to have much hope.