Arrow S04E09 “Dark Waters” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on Sky One, Weds 8pm
Writers: Wendie Mericle, Ben Sokolowski
Director: John Behring
Essential plot points:
- Oliver’s campaign organises a Christmas clean-up event of Star City bay, which is going well until HIVE sends a drone to machine gun everyone. Felicity manages to hack the drone and stop it killing.
- Diggle tries to talk to his brother, still locked up in a cell in the Arrowcave. The drugs Darkh uses to control his ghosts have worn off, but Andy remains loyal to HIVE.
- Felicity’s mother is going through the decorations at the apartment to make sure there’s suitable Hanukah representation at Oliver’s campaign holiday party (Felicity being Jewish, remember) when she discovers Oliver’s engagement ring, hidden since the start of the season. She and Felicity think Oliver is going to propose.
- Oliver calls a press conference where he reveals the attack was caused by HIVE, and outs Damian Darhk as its leader, showing a photo of him to the press.
- Malcolm drops by to check Thea; she still doesn’t have any bloodlust, and thinks she’s cured. Malcolm is worried it’s because of a power he doesn’t fully understand yet.
- At the holiday party, Curtis introduces Felicity to his husband, who reveals how he proposed, dismissing the “hiding a ring in the food” method of straight people. Felicity twigs Oliver was going to propose with the souffle back in episode one, and confronts him about not doing so.
- Then Damian Darhk drops by, guns down the security guards, force-pushes Oliver through a window and abducts Felicity, Diggle and Thea.
- Oliver goes on a rampage through the city, attacking ghosts to find out where his friends are, but getting nowhere until Malcolm gives him one of HIVE’s seconded radios. He makes contact with Darhk to make a trade: him for his friends.
- Darhk takes him to a warehouse where he reveals HIVE was cultivating algae in the bay to be used to create a poison gas – which he demonstrates in a gas chamber.
- He lets Oliver see Felicity, then has her put in the gas chamber with Diggle and Thea, before switching on the poison gas, telling Oliver that by killing his friends, he removes any need for Oliver to resist HIVE and he can be their puppet mayor. They’re rescued by Laurel and Malcolm, wearing the Green Arrow suit, just in the nick of time.
- Team Arrow fights its way out of the warehouse with Oliver, as Oliver, and Malcolm, as the Arrow, pinning down Darhk before blowing the place up with explosive arrows. However, with no body found, the team believe he’s escaped.
- He has indeed, and in another location takes HIVE’s leaders through an artificial cornfield to show how they’ve created breathable air, below a layer of poison gas – as part of Project Genesis.
- Oliver switches on a Christmas tree in the bay as part of the campaign’s bid to unite the city, before proposing to Felicity. As they drive away, gunmen open fire on the limo. Oliver manages to drive them to safety, but as he pulls Felicity from the car it’s clear she’s been shot and lies bleeding and dying in his arms…
- In flashbacks to Lian Yu, Taiana teaches Oliver how to dive, so he can swim to the wreck of the ship in the bay and retrieve its charts of the island. On the way back he fights a shark, before being discovered by Conklin and his soldiers.
Now all that Legends Of Tomorrow stuff is out the way (at least for the moment) Arrow can pick up where it left off earlier this year with the main season storyline: the battle with Damian Darhk for control of Star City. And with just one episode to take us into the mid-season break, it does so in assured style.
We take a big step forward in discovering what HIVE is up to, although the motivations aren’t completely clear yet, the methodology certainly is. Interestingly, it seems to bear a certain resemblance to Ra’s Al Ghul’s plot in Batman Begins too, not least because of an interesting line of dialogue, almost thrown away, about how humanity needed the Nazis as a “reset, a do-over” to make things better.
It helps with all this that McDonough is so damn good. As Arrow supervillains go, he’s the strongest of the four series: a creature of evil that not even the League Of Shadows wants to go up against properly, and McDonough is clearly having a ball playing the role, cranking up the villainy with knowing glee. It’s reminiscent, to some extent, of Michelle Gomez’s Missy in Doctor Who – a panto-esque bad guy who turns round and murders people in cold blood just to remind you that behind the OTT grinning is a genuine psychopath.
Interestingly, too, among all this is a story of parents and daughters, and of protecting those we love. We discover Darhk has a little girl and an almost picture-book domestic life which he returns to after committing atrocities, while the actions of Captain Lance and Malcolm Merlyn are done to protect those they love: namely Laurel and Thea.
There’s a knowing moment between the two fathers as Lance tries to explain his working with Darhk to Laurel which again helps to tie the thematic structure of the episode together.
As Laurel says, these are familial relationships that are “unconventional”, be it her and Lance or Malcolm and Thea, or even Felicity and Lance, which becomes a possibility as it emerges her mother and the captain are still in a relationship. The nature of unconventional ties and love sits alongside Felicity and Oliver’s relationship; with Oliver having not proposed because their lives changed and became dangerous again. Both Felicity and Laurel berate their loved ones – Oliver and Lance respectively – for taking decisions about their respective futures rather than letting the women decide for themselves, something that becomes a recurring message through the story and contrasted with the relationship Diggle has with his captive brother.
The ending of the episode’s as shocking as it is inevitable, as Oliver and Felicity’s limo is gunned down, although quite why the CEO of the city’s biggest company and its only mayoral candidate – who’s already been the victim of a drone attack a day earlier – wouldn’t be under heavy police or security escort’s a bit of a gaffe.
The clear implication is meant to be that it’s Felicity we see in the grave in the flash forward at the start of the season, and this is the moment that takes us there, although we’re not convinced yet, not least as the episode doesn’t dwell on a final visual of Felicity, crashing hastily to the end logo as Oliver takes her pulse. If this were truly the end, we’d presumably be getting the full On Her Majesty’s Secret Service treatment rather than a crash out and a cliffhanger.
We now get more than a month off until Arrow returns. A crossover wobble aside, the first chunk of series four has been superlative stuff. Here’s hoping it doesn’t indulge too much over the holidays and come back out of shape.
- The final sequence, as Oliver and Felicity are shot up while Damian goes home to his own domestic bliss – complete with open fire, wife and daughter, scored to “Little Drummer Boy” – is perfectly done, and leaves the show on a hell of a cliffhanger for its winter break.
- Barrowman. Not only does Malcolm get to be a hero here (although with a glaringly obvious stunt double) but Barrowman gets the best lines after McDonough, to the point it properly teases a real Merlyn v Darhk face-off at some point. And who wouldn’t want to see that?
- David Ramsay. The two scenes in which Diggle gets to face his incarcerated brother are the standout moments in an episode full of stand-out moments. Arrow is, at times, guilty of not giving Ramsay enough meaty moments but when it does he always delivers. Kudos too to Eugene Byrd, who plays Andy.
- In an episode of high drama, there’s some beautifully played moments of comedy – especially at the party, as Oliver and Felicity meet Curtis and Paul, his husband, then Felicity stumbles across her mum and Lance cavorting. Awkward Christmas parties. We’ve all been there.
- Right, let’s get this out the way first. The shark. At least they don’t actually show us Oliver fighting with a giant shark in the waters of Lian Yu, just him being chased by it and the aftermath with a nice bite out of his side. But it’s still an absolutely bloody preposterous moment.
- On top of that, it doesn’t help that the CGI work for Oliver swimming underwater is pretty cheap looking. I kept expecting Darwin the Dolphin to pop up and swim alongside him. They’re not even shots that add anything to the story – just scene bridges, and could be cut with no harm done to the story.
- The one problem with the closeness between Arrow and The Flash is that it exposes the moments when having someone about who can run at 500mph would save a lot of problems when going up against a super villain and his gas chamber, especially in a situation where time is of the essence. Given what a damp squib the crossover actually was last week, you’d have thought a call to Barry and co would have been more useful here…
- Oliver’s plan to expose Darhk and HIVE is… odd. To say the least. Going on live TV the same day someone shot several people and saying the man responsible is someone nobody’s ever heard of, who heads up a gang of soldiers – and that coming from a mayoral candidate rather than, say, the police or the army – is pretty far-fetched. That the journalists don’t question it is even sillier. It’s not how any sensible, logical world operates.
- IT’S ANOTHER DAMNED FIGHT IN ANOTHER DAMNED WAREHOUSE.
And the Random:
- Director John Behring is a television veteran, having directed episodes of Roswell and The Cape for those of you with long enough memories. His association with Arrow goes all the way back to its sixth episode.
- The music over the closing scenes is legendary Christmas carol “The Little Drummer Boy”, dating from the 1940s. It’s been covered a bunch of times, most famously by the Trapp Family Singers, but by artists as unlikely as Pee Wee Herman, The Jackson 5 and the Dandy Warhols. It also featured in one of the best moments in modern television: the finale of The West Wing episode “In Excelsis Deo”. Go check it out here RIGHT NOW if you haven’t seen it.
- Presumably Oliver fished the engagement ring out the bowl he’d hidden it in, if it’s now back in a box and stuck away with the holiday decorations. Although now we know he can dive and hold his breath for ages, perhaps he’ll nick Curtis’ husband’s idea and hide the ring under water.
Review by Iain Hepburn. You can listen to his podcast at www.fromthesublime.com