TV Review: Arrow – “A.W.O.L.”

Arrow - "A.W.O.L."
Warning: this review contains spoilers. You can find my review of the previous episode of Arrow here.
What is it about Diggle-centric episodes that makes them so good? From “Brotherhood” to this week’s “A.W.O.L.”, bringing Andy back from the presumed dead has proven to be a very fruitful storytelling decision. Remember last week when I said that I was worried Darhk giving Oliver a couple of weeks off would slow things down? I’m happy to say I was wrong. The first Darhk-less episode this season was pretty great, and I hope it becomes a trend.
In my reviews I frequently talk about how much I love it when episodes have a singular focus, or at the very least don’t split the audience’s attention between multiple unrelated and inconsequential story arcs. “A.W.O.L.” is an excellent example of this. There weren’t too many plot threads, and they were all interconnected. Felicity’s struggles to adapt to her injury, which normally would be treated as a tangent, tied into the main plot with Diggle and ARGUS. Even the flashback scenes that have been pure distractions these last two seasons were about the Diggle brothers this week, which worked really well.
Andy DiggleI have to say that Felicity hallucinating her past self was far too on the nose. And yet at the same time, Emily Bett Rickards was very entertaining as goth!Felicity. The way she hung around in the background making faces while Oliver was there was quite funny. And in the end, it communicated Felicity’s internal struggle better than having her tearfully monologue the whole time. Unsubtle? Very, but it got the job done, and in a quirky way too.
Meanwhile, an attack on ARGUS forced John and Andy, whose relationship was steadily improving after last week, to work together along with Lyla. It was a solid setup for a very good, well-told story, and there was much to love about it. The action scenes were top-notch, featuring a frantic choreography and aggressiveness that’s rarely seen on the show nowadays. And John gradually overcoming his differences with Andy and accepting his help was a great character arc for both of them, with a very touching conclusion. (Though I can’t help but be nervous about a possible betrayal down the line.)
Bear with me here, but there was something very A New Hope-like about the climax, in that all of the different conflicts in the episode came together and were resolved in the same scene. Within the span of a few minutes, Felicity returned and banished her inner demon for good, Andy revealed his loyalties and came to John’s help, Oliver, Laurel, and Thea crashed in, and all of the characters took down Shadowspire together. That gave the final showdown a triumphant feeling and led to a very satisfying conclusion. This is why I keep harping on about episodes not splitting their focus. It was excellent storytelling.
Before rounding up, I want to touch on something for a moment. Comics and their adaptations often face the criticism that death is a revolving door. While it’s true that resurrections cheapen the impact of death scenes, the Andy storyline on Arrow shows exactly why they’re done. Sometimes—many times, in fact—characters have enough storytelling potential that it’s worth bringing them back, or keeping them around. Some characters, like Moira Queen and Tommy Merlyn, lead to storytelling opportunities in death. Others do so in life. And for some, it’s both. It’s not always perfect—sometimes characters are brought back for unrelated reasons (looking at you, Sara Lance), and sometimes they’re killed off for shock value and not because it’s best for the story (Game of Thrones risks falling into this trap). But when it’s done well, like in Andy Diggle’s case, it’s actually pretty great.
Finally, R.I.P. Amanda Waller. I’m not going to claim with any certainty that her death was mandated to avoid conflicting with the upcoming Suicide Squad movie, but considering both she and Deadshot were killed within a year of that film’s release, it’s worth noting.

Rating: 4/5 (Great)

Notes and Observations

  • Laurel: “Don’t be so hard on yourself.” Oliver: “Everything that’s happened is my fault.” That went well!
  • Felicity on Damien Darhk: “He has an extremely on the nose and alliterative name.”
  • Felicity’s new codename is Overwatch, which was apparently inspired by fans on the Internet. I loved Oliver nudging the fourth wall with, “I was gonna go for Oracle, but it’s taken.” (I could swear I remember Season 2 when fans would have liked her to be called Oracle. Times have changed.)
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