TV Review: Arrow – “Dark Waters”

Arrow - "Dark Waters"
Warning: this review contains spoilers. You can find my review of the previous episode of Arrow here.
"Come, they told me, pa rum pum pum pum…"
After having spent several episodes this season setting up Legends of Tomorrow, one of the things that made "Dark Waters" so good was the return to the Damien Darhk storyline with full, undivided focus. There was no B plot, no tangent with Ray Palmer, or Thea and Laurel going off to Nanda Parbat. Even the Oliver and Felicity subplot, which was necessary to bring some levity and emotion into the episode, still served the Dahrk conflict. Between "Brotherhood" and especially "Dark Waters", Arrow hasn’t felt this focused in a long time.
Stephen Amell as Oliver QueenFocusing entirely on a villain needs one who can support the scrutiny, and Damien Darhk rose to the occasion. Not that there was any doubt. There’s a reason he is the first Arrow villain who’s appeared—in the present—in literally every episode of the season so far (if you count the two-part Arrow/Flash crossover as one long episode). I don’t think a week will pass without me praising Neal McDonough’s incredibly entertaining performance. He plays Darhk as a villain who loves to ham it up—"Bad guy, remember?"—but he also knows when to tone it down. He’s the most unique villain the show’s had, and an antagonist who relishes being evil is definitely one to fear.
Another thing this season’s doing better than last year, and it is exemplified in this episode, is focusing on Oliver’s non-vigilante side. Season 3 was all about the Arrow, and since he’d lost his company and pretty much everyone knew his secret identity, it was understandable. But it robbed the show of that everyday human element that the previous seasons had exploited. Having Oliver run for mayor was a smart way to bring that back, one which has its roots in the comics as well. Not only that, but it also aids Oliver’s character development into the Green Arrow, as he realized that there are ways to help Star City without hiding in the shadows.
Which brings us to this week’s conflict, as Oliver brought the fight to Dahrk, not as the Green Arrow, but as Oliver Queen. And Dahrk showed he was not to be trifled with, laying waste to Oliver’s holiday party and kidnapping his friends. It led to a clever breakout plan that mixed emotion and dread—the gas chamber scene—with action and fun, as Laurel and Malcolm of all people teamed up. It was a war on two fronts, and it made for a thrilling episode.
Emily Bett Rickards as Felicity SmoakThe only parts that were merely passable in "Dark Waters" were the flashbacks. They were still much better than last year’s forgettable Hong Kong scenes, what with the return to Lian Yu and the Amazo, but they were still too quick and brief to feel like more than an afterthought. I mean, if you’re going to have Oliver fight a shark, why on Earth would you do it offscreen?
So let’s talk about that last scene. But first, let’s get one thing clear: they won’t go through with the cliffhanger. Unlike last year’s midseason finale, which legitimately acted like Oliver was dead (only to frustratingly backtrack one episode later), "Dark Waters" cut away far too fast, leaving Felicity’s fate too open-ended. With our knowledge of that grave in the flash-forward, at least one major misdirection was to be expected. I’m sure Felicity will live, and I don’t think the show’s trying too hard to pretend otherwise, though I do hope we will see some consequences.
None of that takes away from how excellent that sequence was, though. Hearing that haunting Christmas carol over the sight of the limo being gunned down and Oliver dragging Felicity’s limp body, intercut with Damien Darhk happily decorating a Christmas tree with what I assume is his family, was very effective and chilling. Plus, it showed that Dahrk is not the kind of villain who’d shake his fist at the heavens when the heroes get away. He retaliates in a swift and deadly manner.
Overall, I’m very happy with the first half of Arrow Season 4. Yeah, it spent a lot of time with Legends of Tomorrow-related tangents, but even that is a great improvement over Season 3’s first half, which basically ran in circles without amounting to much. And with Legends out of the way and Darhk proving to be a worthy villain, I look forward to Arrow‘s return in January.

Rating: 4.5/5 (Excellent)

Notes and Observations

  • Laurel stepped up and was actually really good this week, which is great considering she’d spent the season so far being a walking plot device.
  • Yet again, the show is unapologetic about Malcolm popping into the Arrow cave out of nowhere to push the plot along. Plus, he referred to the League as his "minions" with no hint of sarcasm. You gotta love him.
  • The "Oliver Queen is alive" reporter is back!
  • That CGI shot of Oliver swimming… yikes.
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