Those of you who got a chance to read my review earlier this week for The Flash‘s “Potential Energy” probably have a pretty good idea of how I feel about Arrow‘s mid-season premiere. The similarities between both installments are written on the wall: No more in-house setup for Legends of Tomorrow, main story arcs get thrust back in motion at a warp speed, and the main protagonists are challenged with shocking developments they’ll have forged into their conscious for the foreseeable future. In addition, this parallel in direction lends itself to methods of execution that go almost completely against the type of shows both of them are. I critically expressed my disappointment in “Potential Energy” for trying too hard to stuff arbitrary nonsense down our throats, and striving too far away from the series’ usual handling of characters and storylines. With “Blood Debts”, I’m calling out Arrow for doing the same thing.
The worst part is realizing that terrifyingly tense start wound up being nothing more than a waste of time. No other reaction to last month’s fatal end was more fitting than the juxtaposition of Oliver heartlessly murdering H.I.V.E. members in the search for Darhk, while Felicity’s critical state had her being rushed to the nearest emergency hospital bed. After waiting all this time to see how Ollie would respond to his rival’s bloodthirsty advancements against his loved ones, we got to experience a plump showing of angst and rage, culminating in some of the darkest, most gripping scenes of the entire season.
It’s made very certain that Oliver’s out for blood; to enact a sort of revenge that nullifies the possibly of Darhk having anymore opportunities to harm his friends and family. Some of us may not agree with how Oliver’s road to payback is paved this week, but all in all it lines up with the character perfectly. He doesn’t initially see Felicity when she’s due for surgery because he knows she’d want him to do what’s in the best interests of everyone’s welfare; a moral code he’s learned in his brief mayoral campaign. The tireless search for Darhk is him reassuring that the past doesn’t repeat itself, but the tragic half of such determination unleashes the violent nature of Oliver’s behavior.
I’ll explain that last half a bit further. Remember: just an episode ago Oliver led himself to believe that he had achieved a balance of verbal and physical justice that would be enough to scare his adversary out of performing any ruthless acts upon him, his inner circle, or his homeland. All of Star City found itself riding the wave, and for a moment it seemed as though Oliver had indeed discovered a way to be the right hero without doing the wrong things to get there. However, Darhk’s recent ambush imbues a message too personal for a public speech or a change of heart to match. Oliver was supposed to be dead. Felicity almost died. The target pinned on Team Arrow’s back is larger than ever, and the city appears to be in even graver danger than before. Darhk must be stopped for good, because he’s now proven himself too relentless to be dealt with otherwise. As a result, we begin to find our hero falling back into the violent roots he’s fought to stay away from; the episode progressing with a sense that perhaps Oliver will indeed fatally rid of his new nemesis. He even rescues Anarchy from the jaws of a Star City police cell with his name on it, realizing that the villain-of-the-week’s personal connection to Darhk could be exploited to his advantage.
Arrow isn’t hitting this sort of familiar territory with Oliver just because; he’s tried everything else to be a better man, and none of it has made the lives of his loved ones any safer. For that, “Blood Debts”, in a way, is reaching out to the audience, basically asking us how long can either side of the moral spectrum hold up before it’s back to square one for our hero. There’s only so much restraint one can have, yet only so much bloodshed one can exact.
It’s safe to assume Oliver turned quite a few dark corners this week, but rest assured – Felicity happens to pull him back to his more ethical senses. When he finally sees her, battered and bruised from the events of a night that may have physically and emotionally changed her life forever – there’s a peace, a serenity, that reminds himself of the man she fell in love with. Even though she still wants to be avenged, she doesn’t want to morally lose her significant other in the process, and the brief time we get with Oliver and Felicity creates the stern belief that Oliver resorting to killing isn’t worth sacrificing his character. Through an emotionally gripping performance from Emily Bett Rickards, we find Felicity desperately striving to remain positive in the wake of all she has – and likely will – endure. Her life as both the fiancée of a troubled archer and the living target of a malicious madman has began to speed up in all the worst ways, and the fight to keep her emotions in check became a brilliant watch.
The only thing “Blood Debts” would need to do at this point is give us the big conflict we anticipated. Once the cards were all on the table, and Darhk finally revealed himself, buildup took a backseat for potentially massive payoff; a payoff we never get. Why? Because Darhk offered Oliver three weeks of grieving before continuing their duel…
…yep, you heard that right. In the middle of a heated battle amongst foes, Oliver agreed to part ways and reserve his feud with the man who crippled his fiancée just so they can tend to their respective loved ones for an extended period of time.
Because, you know, Darhk’s so-called “family” went through so much when Anarchy held them hostage. And because, you know, Darhk suddenly feels for Oliver so much now because he probably regrets planning a surefire hit on him. Try to make sense of this as I have tried – you’re likely to draw up as many question marks. If the whole episode was meant to bring us up to this point, then why not just deliver? Why not just give us the whole fight; win or lose? When Felicity went all cordial with Oliver, was that really supposed to convince him that Darhk didn’t need to at least be subdued? But again: Why did Oliver just let him go like that?!?!?!?
This brief truce fails to ring true with anything we know about Oliver. Sure, I could possibly understand that maybe he accepted to hit the pause button because he truly wanted to spend more time by Felicity’s side while she recovers – or that Darhk’s family was involved in the conflict and he had no intentions of harming them. Even still, Darhk is such a bad dude that you’d think Oliver would try something. Anything to make the whole 35 minutes prior seem the slightest bit worth it to us as viewers.
Personally, I feel insulted by this. It’s not fair that I have to wait for their feud to continue at a later time, especially under these circumstances. When Darhk reveals that he’s merely protecting that woman and child – that they’re indeed not his real wife and daughter – I was more upset than intrigued, because had he known Oliver would go along with challenging him as it was initially intended. I don’t want to call it “contrived” or “arbitrary” because that understates the severity of the plot twist (and severity is not being used positively here at all). This development is designed completely out of the blue; it’s the most blatant of blatant cop-outs. I was engaged throughout the entirety of “Blood Debts” beforehand, and right when the getting was beginning to be real good it shot the curtains up and said “Gotcha! We were being full of shit and decided to make you watch a whole episode’s worth of setup for no reason!” There was nothing – nothing – that could’ve hurt the swirling intensity of H.I.V.E.’s presence, or the threat of Darhk himself, had him and Oliver just faced off. Give me that at least. Keep me on the edge of my seat to some degree. Don’t pull this supreme level of bullshit on me last second, Arrow!
The funniest part of how “Blood Debts” concludes is the overwhelming affect it has on everything else that happens before, during, and after. Anarchy’s very presence is deemed inconsequential, and Oliver’s efforts to keep him unbound ultimately lead nowhere. The episode tries to get some form of extra credit through a certain subplot between him and Thea, but that becomes painfully predictable on many fronts. In addition, Alexander Calvert is just terrible in the role, forcing his lines in the hopes of matching the theatricality of Heath Ledger’s spellbinding performance in The Dark Knight to the point where it becomes totally laughable.
Diggle’s once-compelling side story with Andy also loses steam fast because of the conflict that never was, with the show deciding to take the high road here as well. Somehow, some physical pain and tough love are enough to encourage a former H.I.V.E. enthusiast to find himself, and I don’t agree with that one bit. First of all, Andy has put Diggle through a whole lot already, like in the older brother’s search to find/save his younger brother. And second: Andy never previously let up for a moment. We were led into thinking that maybe Andy’s current state ran deeper than what we’ve known; that perhaps Darhk enchanted a certain spell preventing him from linking that familial connection with Diggle again. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, and in no time we’re going to see the two brothers engage in a friendlier manner without a proper or less manufactured explanation.
Not everything in “Blood Debts” is in direct correlation to the central conflict, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. The affects of the Lazarus Pit still linger over Thea’s thought processes, and I continue to ask myself why I should care – didn’t Roy experience the same problems just a season ago? Arrow‘s been too lazy with handling her, and there has hardly ever been a moment where I’ve actually rooted for Speedy to mentally figure things out. Maybe the show should consider giving her something else to gripe about?
Last, but not least is the flash-forward from the season premiere, which completely puts Felicity’s fate in the clear and leaves us asking even more questions. Whoever Darhk truly murdered holds a close relationship to Oliver in some capacity, which does narrow things down, but without the initial stakes the mystery raised when the season began. I mean, it could be Diggle, but besides that I wouldn’t mind if the show got rid of Laurel, or Thea or anyone else on Team Arrow if it meant Oliver would finally try and stop this guy. It’s sad that I’m thinking about it that way, but the truth is that Arrow definitely needs to shave off some of this cast as soon as possible. When it becomes glaringly apparent that these characters are becoming too crowded together, you start to get concerned about how well the show can hold up in its current state. Season Four was on a roll before this installment, and I’d like for it to do whatever it takes to get back to that high point – death or no death.
Let’s say someone spoiled the first half of “Blood Debts”, and you decided to skip it as a result; hindsight would suggest that someone was doing you a favor. The episode gives you a delicious platter of action, emotions and high stakes that all dissipate in a final act that never truly conspires. Under the pretenses for which it draws the white flag, it practically spits in your face as a viewer, assuring you that even a 42-minute dreamscape would’ve made for a more rewarding endeavor in comparison. But honestly, though: If a friend of mine did tell me everything that went down this week, I’d probably thank them for helping me save time on more engaging agendas.
+ Excellent first half highlighting Oliver’s angst
+ Felicity staying upbeat despite all the misfortune
– All this build up for a fight that never was
– Diggle roughs up Andy a little bit, and now he’s back to his senses?
– Anarchy sucks