Arrow S04E11 “AWOL” REVIEW

Arrow S04E11:  “AWOL” REVIEW

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stars 4

Airing in the UK on Sky One, Weds 8pm
Writers: Brian Ford Sullivan, Emilio Aldrich
Director: Charlotte Brandstorm

 

Essential plot points:

  • Mr and Mrs Diggle are returning home after date night when Alan Chang, one of Lyla’s former agents, stops them in the street, needing help because he’s been compromised. Before he can say more, he’s shot and snatched by the gunmen in a van.
  • Oliver and Felicity are adjusting to home life now she’s in a wheelchair. He’s trying to be positive and encourage her to stay on Team Arrow, but she has doubts because she may never recover from her spinal injury.
  • At the Arrowcave the gang try to work out who abducted Chang and why, eventually resorting to old-fashioned detective work.

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  • Diggle talks to his incarcerated brother over a cheeseburger. Andy asks why John’s fighting crime with a guy in a green hoodie, but Diggle says he’s not fighting crime: he’s trying to help the city hold itself together, like they did while serving in Afghanistan.
  • Felicity’s medication starts having an effect on her, making her hallucinate: first a voice, then a vision, of her younger, Goth hacker self. It starts to taunt her about her choices in life and her self-pity over her paralysis.

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  • Laurel and the Star City police find the body of Alan Chang dumped in an alley. Diggle inspects the corpse, which shows signs of having been tortured – and an eye gouged out.
  • Lyla and Diggle confront Amanda Waller at ARGUS. Waller slips them a mysterious USB stick as they leave which contains details about a US Army special forces unit called Shadowspire, taken out by ARGUS for war profiteering. Two more agents, who were investigating it, have now gone missing.
  • Diggle confronts Andy, who used to work with Shadowspire, and he reveals how the unit operates and where the missing agents might be. Team Arrow heads there, but discovers upgraded security.
  • Oliver calls Felicity to help hack the systems, but inside the ARGUS agents are dead and the added distraction of her hallucinated self causes Felicity to trip an alarm. Dig is caught by Shadowspire – led by his former army CO Joyner – before Oliver rescues him.
  • Felicity is distraught about her mistake and tells Oliver she can no longer part of the team. He tries to reassure her, but her hallucination continues to abuse her.
  • Diggle takes Andy to ARGUS to be debriefed by Waller. She reveals the two agents that died were safeguarding a shipment of confiscated railguns. But Andy warns that Shadowspire’s not looking for the guns and is using them as a distraction.
  • Oliver, Thea and Laurel stake out the supposed rail gun theft site, but while they’re doing so Shadowspire breaks into ARGUS HQ using the eye stolen from Chang and take Waller and Lyla prisoner.
  • Joyner tells Waller he wants something called Rubicon, and only she can give him the codes. He threatens to execute a hostage every 20 minutes until she cooperates.
  • Oliver can’t reach John, who’s trying to send a signal out to the team showing CCTV of the ARGUS raid. Felicity turns up at the Arrowcave – courtesy of Curtis – to come and help, having shaken off the self-pity and anger of her Goth self.
  • Shadowspire detects Diggle’s signal. Waller refuses to give Joyner the Rubicon code, so he shoots her through the head, then tells Lyla she’s got 20 minutes to cooperate.
  • Team Arrow breaks into ARGUS with Felicity’s help. Down in the cells, the Shadowspire soldiers find Andy, who tells Joyner he wants to help them. He tells Joyner Diggle’s in the ventilation shafts – where he’s found, overpowered and brought in. He tells Lyla to give Joyner access to Rubicon but it’s a ruse constructed by the Diggle brothers to get both of them in the room together to stop Joyner. With Oliver’s help, they take down the Shadowspire team.
  • Felicity torches a picture of her old Goth self, putting her past behind her, as Oliver vows to find a way to help heal her spinal injuries. Meanwhile, Diggle invites John back to live with him and Lyla rather than return to the cell… and introduces him to his baby niece.

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  • In flashbacks, John and Andy reminisce about their time serving with the US Army in Afghanistan. During that time they took on a Taliban RPG team stealing opium while on patrol. Their CO tries to recruit them for black market dealing, but while Diggle resisted, Andy took their coin, which, it turns out, was proffered by Baron Reiter, who traded the stolen opium for an ancient map…

 

Review:

“AWOL” is an odd episode to consider. On the one hand, it’s a relatively slight villain-of-the-week piece, and on the other it’s a crucial repositioning of the emotional pieces of this season.

Diggle-centric episodes tend to be few but great, and the quietly bubbling-away storyline of John confronting, and trying to reconnect with, his wayward brother has been building up to this: a proper explanation of how Andy turned out the way he did, cleverly if a little too neatly tied into the main arc of series four.

David Ramsey and Eugene Byrd have shown a great rapport as the estranged brothers over the last few episodes, coming to a head here where we get to see the Diggle Brothers in action, both in flashback to their days serving in Helmand, and now, teaming up to save Lyla and take down a villain from their mutual past. Likewise the quietly understated presence of Audrey Marie Anderson, always reliable as Lyla, adds meat to the core storyline.

Away from that, we get a nice series of almost-monologues, as Emily Bett Rickards performs against herself as two sides of the conflicted Felicity: the wheelchair-bound victim and a vision of her angry, activist past taunting her current self-pity. The camera tricks that keep the two on screen work well, but it’s the performance that sells it; the difference between the “dark” Felicity we saw last season and “our” Felicity is marked, in body language and attitude as much as in her Death: The High Cost Of Living approach to fashion.

It’s no surprise after the Goth flashbacks people wanted to see that Felicity – much like vamp Willow was brought back in Buffy – but rather than being done as a fan pleaser, this is the character being exorcised. Coupled with some lovely, tender scenes between her and Stephen Amell, and Rickards manages to steal the show from out underneath the main plot.

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All this means the usual supporting cast get less to do than normal. Poor Thea might as well not even be in it this week, for starters. But it feels like the show also needed this breather from the Darhk storyline and last week’s trauma to deal with the emotional repercussions of the season so far.

It helps we get a nicely turned-in script to go with all this, one which makes good use of the show’s recent and more long-term history to generate motivations without any major concessions to new viewers, particularly with regard to back stories. The idea Oliver is feeling guilty – but rationalising that guilt as the result of Barry’s screwing about with time in the Legends set-up eps – is an interesting idea in itself, but it almost feels like it’s setting something else up for down the road.

This is Arrow back to doing what it does well: a strong action storyline coupled with some good emotional backfilling, directed with energy and tautness. This season especially has been very good at balancing, and finding strong parallel stories between the action and the emotional, which almost makes this Arrow-by-numbers, except for the fact that Arrow-by-numbers this season is a very good thing. And frankly any episode that gives David Ramsey more to do is fine by us.

 

The Good:

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  • The split-screen stuff with Felicity and Dark Felicity is exceptionally well done. For all the usual split screen tropes, they’ve chucked in a couple of shots of the two moving around each other which are particularly worthy of note.

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  • For the first time, one of these “threaten someone so they give the codes” sequences works. Waller being shot and killed comes completely out of nowhere, and makes Joyner and his team feel like a legitimate threat.
  • The resolution of the Diggle Brothers arc is well-executed. Andy’s motivation and reasoning for going rogue make more sense – as a petty criminal, he wasn’t suited to army life, and only joined up to be with his brother – as does his closer bond with John at the end. Eugene Byrd turns in a hell of a performance so here’s to him popping up again in future episodes.
  • This week’s “big fight in a warehouse” turns out to be a smaller affair and inside an office. It’s still a fight, as you’d expect, but by focusing on the Diggle Brothers and Lyla, and minimising Team Arrow’s involvement, it takes on a far punchier, scrappier dynamic which helps it feel different. About time too.\
  • We never really find out what Rubicon is. Hopefully this isn’t a set-up for the future, but is instead a cheeky Mission Impossible III-style Mcguffin that’s never explained again.

The Bad:

  • As Oliver says, the Arrowverse contains flying Egyptian gods, time-travelling speedsters, shrinking scientists, and that’s why he believes a cure might be found for Felicity’s spinal damage. Which makes sense in character, but also feels a bit clunky given we’ve spent the last 45 minutes seeing her come to terms with her paralysis. A show that’s so good in terms of inclusivity with people of colour and LGBTQI characters seems to be looking for a cop-out way of dealing with disability, which is a shame.

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  • The ride-along stuff during the Diggle Brothers’ flashback sequences is meant to be Helmand Province. Shame they didn’t go to too much trouble beyond finding a nearby quarry to film in, as it looks nothing like Afghanistan.
  • We hope Lyla and John are paying their babysitter a tonne of overtime, given they bugger off for the night to play at spies again.
  • Let’s be honest, Diggle’s plan is a bit crap and, had Oliver not dropped in to unlock his handcuffs, wasn’t going to work.
  • It’s a nice bit of joining the circle, having Reiter be the head of the unit Diggle and Diggle served in, but unless it pays off later in the series it’s a horrible bit of coincidental plotting.

And the Random:

  • Charlotte Brandstrom makes her Arrowverse debut with “AWOL” although the French-born Swedish helmer has quite the CV, including directing the proper (ie, not Branagh) Wallander and a host of French films and TV shows. This season has really seen the Arrow producers cast the net far and wide for directors, with remarkable success.
  • Brian Ford Sullivan has been writing for Arrow for a couple of years, including the brilliant goth Felicity episode last season, and also co-wrote cartoon spin-off Vixen. Emilio Aldrich has two episodes under his belt, but regularly writes for the Arrow comic book. And if you want to know what they look like, their mugshots provided the illustration of the two missing agents.

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  • Well, after wondering if Felicity was going to become Oracle last week, we get our answer. Ms Smoak’s long-awaited codename is Overwatch (although her suggestion of Hot Wheels works for us…) which happens to be the same as a novel by show runner Marc Guggenheim.
  • Amusingly, they even crack a joke on the show about how Oliver, “thought about Oracle but it was taken”. Presumably, much like Harley Quinn being verboten past that cheeky Suicide Squad cameo, the cinema universe has staked a claim on the name.
  • Another reference to Kord Industries – this week on the storage units for the railguns. Presumably these are just for the comics fans, unless we’re getting a very slow build for Blue Beetle to join the Arrowverse….

Review by Iain Hepburn. You can listen to his podcast at www.fromthesublime.com


Read our other Arrow season four reviews

 

 

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