Arrow S04E10 “Blood Debts” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on Sky One, Weds 8pm
Writer: Oscar Balderrama
Director: Jesse Warn
Essential plot points:
- Felicity is rushed to hospital after the shooting by Darhk’s Ghosts, while Oliver goes on a rampage through Star City hunting for Darhk. He confronts one Ghost who eventually throws himself off a building into an electricity substation rather than give up his boss.
- Back at the Arrow lair, Oliver asks Diggle to interrogate his brother for Darhk’s location. Laurel wants him to be with Felicity as she goes back in for surgery, but he wants to keep hunting her attacker, claiming it’s what she’d want.
- John Diggle hands out a beating to Andy in his cell in a bid to get information on Darhk’s whereabouts but with no luck.
- Oliver asks Lance to reveal where he meets Darhk, knowing it will expose the Captain’s double agent role. He promises to offer protection to Lance at the lair and Lance gives him an address, but not before expressing concern that Oliver’s going back to his killing ways.
- Oliver enters Darhk’s HQ but finds only the bodies of his Ghosts and a giant Anarchy symbol painted in blood. Team Arrow connects it to Lonnie Machin, the would-be enforcer that Thea set on fire two months ago.
- Lyla convinces Diggle to try a more familial approach to get through to his brother, reaching out to him rather than punching him.
- At the hospital, Thea confides in Laurel that she’s afraid she’s inspired a blood lust in Machin similar to her own, before they walk in on Lance and Donna embracing. Oops.
- SCPD’s crime lab identifies blood at Darhk’s base as belonging to Machin’s abducted foster parents. Team Arrow heads to their house, where a masked Machin has set a trap for them. Thea gives chase but is overpowered. Machin takes off his mask to reveal his burned face, but the rest of the team takes him out before he can do anything.
- They interrogate him for Darhk’s location, before Oliver receives news that Felicity’s surgery has gone wrong. He leaves Thea with Machin, and he taunts her until she pulls an arrow and is ready to kill him before the police arrive to arrest him.
- Andy Diggle reveals to John a clue as to where Darhk’s house is after John tries to appeal to him “brother to brother”.
- Oliver breaks Machin out of police custody and plants a tracker on him, allowing them to follow him to Stonehaven, where Darhk lives. Then finally he sees Felicity for the first time since the attack, putting her engagement ring back on and telling her they’ll be together for better or worse.
- Machin has abducted Darhk’s wife and child, tying them up and threatening them with a flame thrower before Team Arrow arrives to confront him. He escapes and as Oliver and Thea give chase, Darhk arrives. He and Oliver fight, until Oliver reveals he saved Darhk’s family. As a thank you, he tells Oliver he’ll let him live a few more weeks.
- Thea captures Machin, and despite his taunting does not give in to her blood lust and doesn’t kill him. However, he manages to escape into the forest.
- Shaken by what happened, Thea initially breaks up with Alex, before inviting him back to hers.
- Despite her paralysis, Felicity vows she’ll be wherever Oliver is, and wants to get back into the fight against Darhk.
- In flashbacks to Lian Yu, a badly injured Oliver is taken back to camp by Conklin and punished for lying to Baron Ritter, until the magic symbols bestowed on him by John Constantine light up. Oliver strikes a deal: as long as Taiana is protected, he’ll cooperate with Ritter.
- And in flash forwards, Oliver finishes his graveside chat with Barry and, in a limo, speaks to a detached and frosty Felicity, who tells him he needs to “kill the son of a bitch”.
We left Arrow on a Christmas cliffhanger, with Felicity apparently dying in Oliver’s arms to the strains of “Little Drummer Boy”. Of course, there’s no way they’re going to kill off Ms Smoak quite so casually; she’s a key part of team Arrow. But now at least we know for sure how high the stakes are going to be this year.
There’s some interesting thematic stuff going on across most of the core characters in “Blood Debts”, specifically with them fighting against their own nature. Oliver wants to revert to the darker instincts that saw him significantly add to global mortality statistics by killing Darhk. Thea wants to give in to her blood lust again. Diggle wants to punish his brother some more for betraying him. Even Darhk has a struggle with his better nature, letting Oliver live when he has the chance to kill him. The only person who is actually embracing, rather than resisting, is Machin, literally a symbol of the anarchy the others are trying to oppose.
If all that sounds a bit on the nose, even for Arrow, then don’t worry. “Blood Debts has a lot going for it beyond some obviously paralleled character conflict. In fact, there’s a heck of a lot of plot being peddled in what still manages to be a remarkably emotive episode.
The slow burn Diggle Brothers stuff continues, played perfectly by David Ramsey and Eugene Byrd, as Lyla convinces her other half to try and win Andy’s trust through family rather than continuing to beat him to a pulp. It doesn’t necessarily work, but the final scene between the pair, playing a silent game of cards, hints at a further thawing of relations to come.
And there’s the return of Lonnie Machin, the alter ego of comics Batman villain Anarky, and here rendered by Alexander Calvert as a sort of cut-price version of Heath Ledger’s Joker, sent genuinely insane by the disfigurement he suffered by being set on fire by Thea in “The Candidate” earlier this season. As with his first appearance, the character doesn’t quite work, although his escape and survival, and weird relationship with Thea, does at least add something different. The fate of Machin’s left intriguingly vague, too, hinting at a further return for him.
We know more about Darhk’s scheme, not least that his missus is in on it. In fact, in her anger at him not killing the Green Arrow – who’d just saved her and her daughter – when he had the chance, Ruvé comes across like Lady Macbeth. Which could make for an interesting contrast; Felicity urging Oliver not to kill people, Ruvé urging Damien to do just that.
Ah yes, Felicity and Oliver. The stuff between Rickards and Amell is beautifully done this week, with as much conveyed non-verbally as verbally. Rickards does so much with her body language, which is remarkable given she’s confined to a hospital bed and unable to move below the waist. The contrast between happy Felicity we know and love, and the distant, angry Felicity in the flash forward is notable too, which makes the earlier scenes feel even more important.
And as for that flash forward… We know from the first episode that someone close to Team Arrow is dead; close enough to drive Oliver to want to kill someone. And we now know it’s not Felicity. So the bets are open as to who bites the big one instead. Thea? Dig? Laurel? It makes for an intriguing set up for the next run. Less a whodunnit than a whodiedit.
“Blood Debts” comes back from the winter break, not with a bang, but with a swagger. It doesn’t need a big show-off explosive episode to get everyone’s attention, such is the confidence of everyone involved. The chess pieces for the next stage of the story have been neatly placed, so let’s see if they deliver…
- The traditional Arrow soundtrack gets a bit of a remix during the fight sequences with Anarky, with Blake Neely cranking up a heavy, crunching bit of techno over the more orchestra score.
- The reveal to Laurel that Lance is dating Felicity’s mum is a lovely, grown-up moment. No histrionics, no big drama, just a smile and a wee bit of teasing of her old man. Well done.
- Even while paralysed and recovering from major surgery Felicity gets the best single entendres. “I have never been more ready to have a bunch of guys poking around inside me… Doctors! Doing doctor things!” Round of applause for Emily Bett Rickards for selling the gag perfectly too.
- This week’s BIG FIGHT IN A WAREHOUSE is instead a big fight in a lovely town house in Stonehaven (which is apparently a suburb of Star City, and not the picturesque coastal town 16 miles south of Aberdeen where your correspondent once worked…). But it’s STILL just a big fight, and one that the episode really could have done without. In fact, both the Anarky v Olly and Thea, and the Olly v Darhk scraps could easily have been replaced with stand-offs without in any way damaging either scene.
- Conklin really is the most pointless henchman character they’ve had on Arrow. Grief, he gets shut down more times than Worf.
- Is there just one hospital room free in the whole of Star City. That room Felicity is recovering in is the same one Thea was once in. And Sara. And Laurel for that matter.
- Where’s Dr Palmer? Or the media for that matter? I know Ray’s still trying to keep a low profile but you’d think the attempted assassination and eventual paralysis of his former girlfriend and still close pal would bring him back. And that the press – and the Palmer Tech board, for that matter – might get wind of the fact that the chief executive of the biggest company in the city has been severely injured in a drive by shooting…
And the Random:
- The now-paralysed computer genius Felicity was complaining a couple of episodes ago about not having a code name. Given how much else Arrow’s purloined from the Batman universe, what’s the odds on her taking on the name Oracle…?
- Take a close look at Felicity’s hand in the flash forward scene. Doesn’t look like she’s wearing her ring, does it?
- Episode director Jesse Warn returns for his fourth stint in the Arrow hotseat, having previously helmed season two’s “Man Under The Hood” and season three’s “Uprising” and “Suicidal Tendancies”. He’s a regular in the Arrowverse, having also done episodes of Supergirl and The Flash, along with quirky murder thriller Nemesis Game.
- Ruvé, Darhk’s wife, is played by Canadian actress Janet Kidder who’s been in everything from Earth: Final Conflict to The Legend Of Dick And Dom (no, really. She’s also done Casualty and Doctors, for that matter. She just needs Holby to complete the set). If she looks familiar, it’s because she’s also the niece of Margot Kidder, the definitive big screen Lois Lane.
Review by Iain Hepburn. You can listen to his podcast at www.fromthesublime.com