The Diggle brothers got the spotlight in this week’s “A.W.O.L.”, as their past tour in Afghanistan shed some serious light on their relationship as a new threat made its way to Star City. Personally, I kind of appreciated this shift in perspective because it gives Arrow a chance to reflect on the characters a bit more and sort of “explain itself” for the ridiculousness of “Blood Debts”‘s second half. In addition, the brotherly bond worked – thanks to some rock solid work by David Ramsey and Eugene Byrd – and at the conclusion of the episode we find their situation in a more plausible outlook.
Last week, I expressed my discord over Andy’s sudden softening up, feeling as though the show just never gave us enough to justify his turnaround. All of that prior contention is on the back burner now, as both the flashbacks and the ongoing rapport between him and John managed to paint all the walls around his persona. The end result is a troubled man with a conflicting view on life, considering every day a struggle to survive and somehow finding the will to sacrifice virtue and morals for personal welfare. Many scenes stand out in this regard, particularly the flashbacks – where we also meet the week’s new baddie, Erik Palladino’s Lieutenant Joyner – which include the friendlier, more playful dynamic the Diggle brothers used to share during the war. They do a great job showing the innocence Andy once had, and displaying how his more opportunistic qualities affected him down the road.
“A.W.O.L.” doesn’t exactly turn Andy into a perfectly good guy who made some mistakes; it allows us to forgive him for his past indecencies while also having them linger in the back of our minds. He still believes that the world is a cruel place one needs to grab by the horns and hold no prisoners in return – but at least he understands where he went wrong with John as far as their family dilemma is concerned. Much of the episode serves to prove this. When he helps Team Arrow infiltrate the whereabouts of Shadowspire, he’s giving them ample, meaningful insight on the organization; all of which is stemmed from his prior time working with Shadowspire. Also, from this helpful guidance, he starts to realize where his life went wrong, and just how bad those people were for him when he conspired under their influence. Having him be the x-factor in Shadowspire’s A.R.G.U.S. invasion by using their deception tactics against them became the defining moment for Andy, as we see his knowledge from past experiences and his replenishing care for his brother and his loved ones come together. Here, he’s a changed man with clearer senses, but there are still shady underlinings that define him all the same.
Therefore, I now have a hunch that John is the one we see buried at that cemetery from the flash-forward, and that Andy will be responsible for his death. Think about it: Team Arrow – especially Oliver – would have every right to be mourning so hard over his passing, and on top of that it’s still possible for Andy to simply be using him and Lyla for shelter up until he deems himself capable of surviving on his own accord again. Furthermore is the connection the Diggle brothers’ flashbacks had with Ollie’s, as Baron Reiter showed up on that base camp revealing the details of the exact same magical resource he’s seeking out on the island Oliver’s trapped in. The very fact that Reiter was in Afghanistan leads me to suppose that he’s been in touch with Andy to some extent, planning to use him for big things in the present. Of course, we’ll have to see what happens in the coming weeks, but for now I’m holding onto my speculations.
Fellicity’s emotional battle with her new-found disability has been hard to watch (for all the right reasons), and this week rightfully brought it home. Since she practically tables all of her qualms over some mostly-solid dialogue between her and her emo-heavy hallucination, I ultimately understood her rationale for wanting out of Team Arrow, as well as the impact she’s already declared it has had on her daily life. She’s not ready – or strong enough to – spend the rest of her life under these severed circumstances (at least not initially), and Emily Bett Rickards sells the uncertainty of the character’s feelings relative to helping the team fight crime going forward. Luckily, she’s got Oliver on her side, providing a heartwarming shoulder to lean on over some extremely uplifting moments between Rickards and Stephen Amell. (Side note: Arrow has absolutely killed it with developing their grounded, affectionate relationship this season. The chemistry just bounces off the screen sometimes – they’re really that amazing together.)
Time will tell if Shadowspire’s influence this week will immediately spring them into the central story arc over the coming weeks, but even if we don’t soon get an update from them I got a real kick out of seeing these guys clash with Team Arrow. Their methods of distraction and deception made them a terrifyingly unpredictable bunch, and Erik Palladino was a treat as Joyner, leading the troops into A.R.G.U.S. with gravitas. Joyner murdering Waller so coldly solidified the threat this organization imbued throughout the episode, and the potential connection between them and Reiter hints that there’s another storm making its way for the generally distraught Star City.
Waller giving Lyla that flashdrive suggests that A.R.G.U.S. will not die with her, and I wonder what that exactly means for the tough-as-nails Diggle bride. All of her talk about despising the work Waller used to assign her seemed too preachy for it to be present merely so that we’d be reminded Lyla actually had morals (because Waller herself clearly never gave a damn about human sacrifice). I wonder if Lyla will tackle a few A.R.G.U.S.-mandated missions on her own, which would great considering how much fun Audrey Marie Anderson is when she’s not lingering in the background like an annual guest star. Hell, maybe she even runs A.R.G.U.S. herself a la Nikita-style, which would be a startling development I’d be completely on-board for.
Amidst all the satisfaction I had watching “A.W.O.L.”, it still carries its share of problems. Andy’s insistence for John to go out on his lonesome and take on an entire squad of armed Shadowspire soldiers just to save Lyla made absolutely no sense, and the way he changed course so quickly and pulled John back from going out there took some steam out of the hostage situation. There’s also the toast to Waller – the same Waller John disrespected and Lyla scorned throughout the episode – that completely contradicted the Diggles’ stances against her reign over A.R.G.U.S.. I was also a bit annoyed by how over-the-top Felicity’s emo hallucination was (although the way she angered Felicity into unintentionally screaming at Oliver made for a pretty intense end to a relatively stirring scene).
Arrow got right back on track with “A.W.O.L.”, the ironic title to an episode that kept the season firmly rooted in the central dealings at hand. The Diggle brothers and their slowly-rebuilding relationship were given some much needed clearing up, as we learned a whole lot more about Andy while John fought to protect his little brother and his family. The rest of the episode did have a few inconsistencies, but for the most part I had a blast watching Waller scramble, Lyla kick ass and take names, and Shadowspire go to work for the first time.
+ Swirling uncertainty of and eventual redemption for Andy
+ Felicity revealing all of her emotions (and fighting off her hallucinations)
+ Joyner, Shadowspire, and supposed relations to Reiter
– “Let’s show Waller how much we hated her guts by toasting to all her hard work!”
– Andy’s direction during hostage situation made no sense