Warning: this review contains spoilers. You can find my review of the previous episode of Arrow here.
I don’t think any of us suspected that Felicity was actually dead, and “Blood Debts” mercifully didn’t waste any time pretending otherwise, jumping right into the thick of Oliver’s vengeance-fuelled rage. I appreciated seeing Oliver backslide into his Season 1 persona a little bit. While it’s true that he’s the Green Arrow now and aiming for a more positive and heroic image, the transition can’t be that instantaneous. It’s clear that one of the running threads this season focuses on the challenges Oliver faces in his journey to the light, and what better way to knock him back a few steps than having Felicity’s life hanging in the balance.
The episode itself didn’t have as much momentum as I would have liked, though. It started with a frantic hunt for Damien Darhk, but was interrupted by the appearance of Lonnie Machin, aka Anarky. Machin is actually a pretty good villain (despite not really resembling his comic book counterpart), and was a worthy antagonist for most of the episode. Unfortunately, the episode’s placement made him feel like a distraction, diverting attention away from Darhk, and both he and the episode suffered as a result.
This is actually one of the more annoying things about the episode: the individual elements worked very well, but this week was not the right time for most of them. Coming off a huge cliffhanger last month, Arrow should have returned guns blazing, rather than taking a side trip with a secondary villain, especially one who seemed to be tied more to Thea than Oliver and Darhk anyway.
Of course, Anarky was also seeking Damien Darhk, so he wasn’t a complete diversion. His storyline did result in Oliver confronting Darhk, but rather than the vengeful showdown that had been built up, their meeting was short-lived and anticlimactic. Oliver saving Darhk’s family was a nice twist, but using that as an excuse to delay the big Oliver/Darhk face-off was a letdown. One of the best things about this season has been its singular, driven focus on Damien Darhk. I fear that Darhk granting Oliver a few weeks of peace will lead to some of that momentum being lost. We’ll have to wait and see.
One of the better parts of the hunt for Darhk in “Blood Debts” was seeing how each member of Team Arrow handled it. Where Oliver was out for blood and dangerously reckless, allowing someone like Anarky to remain loose, Diggle took a different, more caring approach in his interrogation with Andy and actually achieved better results. It was a nice reminder that even as Oliver hewed closer to his old self, that didn’t make it the right thing to do. My only problem with it was that Andy’s decision to help John was too rushed.
Finally, Felicity losing the use of her legs was a pretty good development in my eyes. If she had survived unscathed, it would have cheapened the shock factor of the midseason finale cliffhanger (see: Season 3). Plus, there has to be some cost to the fight against Darhk—aside from the mysterious flash-forward grave—and Felicity’s the perfect candidate, as she’s been a constant throughout the last few seasons, never suffering a major loss. Of course, the similarities between Felicity and Oracle in the comics are even more apparent now, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s not like Barbara Gordon’s going to show up on TV any time soon. (In fact, I remember Felicity as Oracle being something fans used to want, before she became less popular in Season 3.)
Meanwhile, the flashbacks are still there. And stuff is happening in them, I guess. They actually were a bit promising early in the season, but now they’re back to being very quick, choppy interruptions. Hopefully they’ll get more meaty soon.