Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Arrow 4x09 "Dark Waters" (And All of the Ghouls Come Out to Play)


"Dark Waters"
Original Airdate: December 9, 2015

When I was in high school, my theatre teacher decided that our spring musical would be Les Miserables. We were all baffled — rightfully so — because the musical is pretty heavy for a bunch of teenagers to have performed. We should have trusted our teacher, though, because Les Miserables turned out to be a sold-out show both weekends that it ran. Performing in the show, in spite of the fact that I was in the ensemble, was one of the best memories I have from high school. The show's music is iconic and there's one line in the song "Do You Hear the People Sing?" that always struck me:
Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.
That line, to me, is so important because it means that no matter how dark things get in life, whether sickness or pain or heartache, we always have a constant light to anticipate. Nights all end eventually and sunrises happen, whether we're celebrating or mourning. It's something that Team Arrow will need to remember as they pull themselves from the rubble when Arrow returns in 2016. Because though darkness always ends and light prevails, what happens when the light is obstructed by clouds? What happens when you wake up and it's just rain, thunder, and no light in sight? Even if you know the light is there, when you can't see it... well, that changes everything.

Let's cut straight to the chase, then, and talk about the episode including its ending (come on, Arrow, we know Felicity isn't dead, but thanks for making some sort of effort in your "previously on" segment and promo for the next episode intended to convince us otherwise), as well as what this means for Oliver Queen and the team moving forward as heroes.

IT'S ALWAYS DARKHEST BEFORE THE DAWN

(LAST ARROW PUN OF 2015.)

The only reason we understand darkness is because first we understand the light. I've heard it said many times that darkness is just the absence of light. And I find that definition to be pretty curious, because it's not the darkness that is really being defined. The dark is simply a "without." And until we understand what light really is, you can't truly understand darkness. I think... no, wait, I know that Oliver Queen understands this.

In last week's (extremely problematic) episode, Oliver Queen discusses Felicity with Samantha. And the way that his face lights up, the way he speaks about her with such edifying words is very telling. The only way that Oliver Queen can currently understand the power of darkness (and Darhkness) is because he knows what life is like in the sun. The way that we frame our sadness and our grief is not by darkness itself, but by happy memories.

And really, you can kind of take this idea and string it through other emotions. We know what sadness is — it is the absence of laughter and happiness and joy. We know what fear is — it is the absence of comfort and safety. We know what anger is — it is the absence of peace. Oliver has gone through years of literal hell on earth. And I think that it's easy to any of us to define those times as "hell." But in "Dark Waters," we can only truly recognize the impact of what Oliver's lost when we realize that by taking away Felicity, he is in the literal definition of darkness.

Light gives us a lot of things. For most, it gives them a sense of security. I think that's really an interesting metaphor if you, again, extend it a bit. Think about Central City, for a moment. This is a place that is constantly shrouded in light, not just from the literal daylight, but also from the light emitted from the city's hero — The Flash. Contrast that with the darkness that shrouds Star(ling) City. The people of Central City and the metahumans don't hide in the shadows. They live in broad daylight. Their misdeeds are in broad daylight, as are their successes. And I think in a lot of ways, the scarier things happen in Central City because they're often unhidden. Barry Allen's shattering revelation that Dr. Wells was not who he said he was is a lot more gripping than Damien Darhk's reveal as a villain. Why? Because we expect the people who hide in the shadows to be the bad guys; we don't expect the ones who parade in the light to be as well.

I think this idea of darkness and light and its dichotomy is really important in examining a hero's journey, too. Barry and Oliver are different kinds of heroes, simply because they exist in fundamentally different worlds. Barry is revealed to all (not literally, in being unmasked, but revealed), while Oliver has — until this season — stayed in the shadows, under the guise of his alter ego. And that's why Oliver is easily swayed by the shadows and by the darkness. It's familiar to him. It is what he surrounds himself with. No wonder he finds it easy to slip back into old patterns and lies. Think about the time of day in which he refused to (both times) tell Felicity about William — both occurred at night. The light unsettles Oliver in a lot of ways because he's not used to the change he has to make as a person and a hero because of it.

All of this is to say that when Felicity Smoak entered Oliver's life, she disrupted it in the best way possible. He only knows that he needs her because he knows what life is like without her. He knows the power of the light because he's been in darkness. All of this brings us to "Dark Waters," which is this year's midseason finale. And boy, is it a doozy. Last year we were treated to "The Climb," an episode whose title was reflective of the thematic content contained within it. This year is no different, as "Dark Waters" slams us straight into darkness at every turn.

IT'S A FINE ROMANCE, BUT IT'S LEFT ME SO UNDONE


I would be remiss if I didn't spend some of this review talking about Oliver and Felicity's romantic relationship. There are a lot of important elements about the two's romance that are explored throughout the episode, but the one I keep returning to and find to be most integral is this idea of partnership, especially in relation to marriage. In the scene right before Felicity is ushered to a gas chamber (words I really don't want to type and pray I never have to again), she tells Oliver that he's not the boss of her — that they make decisions together and face all of the dark times, all of the problems, and all of the harrowing events as a team. That's what it looks like to have a healthy and functional relationship. You don't run from the difficulties, but you rush toward them — together.

Oliver and Felicity have always had this sort of trust between them, even before they began dating. He believes in her, and she in him. And one of the benefits of having that trust is that Felicity knows Oliver inside out. She knows where his weaknesses are and she is the life preserver — the thing that holds onto his humanity and his hope when he cannot — constantly reminding him of who he is and where he is headed. Oliver, you see, has this wretched tendency to look backwards. He constantly thinks about his past and the dark things he did, and this affects him deeply in the present-day. Less so now, of course, four seasons into his heroic arc, but it does nevertheless.

When Oliver proposes, he says as much, referring to Felicity as "the one who lights my way." Arrow isn't known for being subtle (at all), and this allusion to light in the midst of darkness is extremely significant. Felicity is the one who points Oliver home, like a lighthouse guiding a ship. She knows where he has been — perhaps not as intimately because she was not on Lian-Yu for years — but the most important thing is that she knows where he is and where he is going. She points, at every turn, toward home for him. That's what's so important about their conversation in the cell and why I find it infinitely more complex and emotionally rewarding than the proposal itself.

Oliver is not used to having a partner. What he is used to is telling someone that he wants to protect them and then shoving them aside to stand in front of an oncoming arrow or bullet. This very mentality though is one of individualism. Because this means that OLIVER is the hero and the one protecting the people he cares about. What's so important about the conversation in the cell is that Felicity is mad that Oliver keeps trading his life for the lives of the people he loves. That isn't what teamwork means. It's something Laurel tells Oliver earlier in the episode — they all chose to put their lives on the line. And Oliver needs to realize that this means EVERYONE is entitled to being their own hero — the one who does the sacrificing, not the one who is being sacrificed for.

So when Felicity essentially tells Oliver that love means walking into battle beside someone — that this is what MARRIAGE is — I think the light bulbs all finally click on in that dim head of his. Oliver Queen has never really seen a true depiction of partnership in marriage. All he knows to be true of marriage is that people keep secrets in the name of protecting others. It's his default setting, too, as we saw last week. And Felicity not-so-gently reminds him that partnership doesn't mean one person holds all the power; it means that people work together. That's the only way a true marriage can work, really — if you go through the bad times, but go through them holding hands, at each other's sides. It removes one-sided blame, which is Oliver's biggest (or one of his, anyway) problems. Because one person cannot take blame for a decision that two people made, together.

AND I'M READY TO SUFFER, I'M READY TO HOPE


... But then there is a small matter of what happens when you allow people to become their own heroes and make their own decisions and risk their own lives. Sometimes, unfortunately, they get hurt either physically or emotionally. Love isn't something you can control and by Oliver stepping aside and allowing Felicity to be a hero right next to him, he realizes that there are risks that accompany that. 

"Dark Waters" ends with a shoot-out, as Oliver and Felicity are speeding away from their engagement shindig. When Oliver manages to drive the car to relative safety and pull Felicity from the wreckage, she's soaked in blood and it's dripping from her mouth. We don't get to see anything other than a momentary reaction from Oliver, but we know that he will be completely distraught in an attempt to save her life. The thing that strikes me most is that this constantly happens to Oliver — he opens himself up and allows himself a moment of happiness before everything is ripped away from him once more. He lowers his guard and bad things happen.

We saw this happen in "The Calm" last year, and I'm interested to see the contrast between how Oliver reacted ("old Oliver," as Felicity might say) back then, and how he will handle himself and the people around him now. Recognizing the fact that character growth is at the forefront of any good television show, I'm hopeful that we will see Oliver get angry, of course, but that it won't cause him to push Felicity away — that this won't be a deterrent in their relationship moving forward. We already have one of those, thanks, and her name is "Samantha."

What this mid-season finale taught us, amidst the shoot-outs, the explosions, the villainous monologues, and the holiday lights is this — darkness is inevitable. Night happens. Bad people enter our lives and our cities. Evil exists. We can pretend that it doesn't or that we can handle it on our own, but that's simply not the case. The only way to survive in dark waters is to have something to grasp onto and keep us afloat.

Who — or what — that flotation device is for each of our characters is the thing that will determine whether we return home or drown.

Observations & favorite moments:
  • MVP of this episode goes to Neal McDonough because holy crap, is he amazing or what? I think that the most wonderful thing about Neal is the fact that he plays Damien Darhk with so much glee that it becomes a little terrifying (not maniacal, mind you, but terrifying). He's not The Joker. Damien is calculated in a way that Ra's was, but in a way that is far more terrifying. Because Neal has this impeccable way of making every sort of emotion flicker across Damien's face in the span of maybe two seconds. And the way that his tone of voice shifts from playful and sassy to menacing is really harrowing. I'm so impressed because there are intricacies to this character that he continues to unearth each week. And this one was no exception. And really I think the most amazing thing of all is the fact that Neal manages to play Damien with a shred of humanity. He laughs and he jokes, so it comes as no surprise that he is able to feel something deeply beyond just the one-note emotion of "kill the hero" we are so used to seeing in comic book villains. I absolutely think Neal knocked this episode out of the park and cannot wait to see what happens when he returns.
  • Why yes, I did use "Shake It Out" lyrics throughout this review. You're welcome.
  • I care SO little about flashbacks that I don't even try to pay attention to them anymore. Once we get off the Island again, maybe this will change. (Not likely, but maybe.) But for now, they serve as the place during the episode where I can type up these notes or eat chocolate.
  • (Seriously someone tell me what happened this episode on Lian-Yu.)
  • "She's like a mini-you!" Laurel was absolutely delightful this episode. And I don't say that very often these days, so revel in it.
  • I found it great that Oliver dove to protect the girl who looked like Felicity.
  • The scene where Donna and Felicity find the ring is PERFECTION.
  • "I don't know who's more excited — you, or me!" Guys, I just got a flash-forward into what will happen when I get engaged.
  • Time for some criticism — Team Arrow's plans recently? The actual worst. How can a team of normally-intelligent people (and super-smart Felicity) come up with so many BAD plans? Bad plan #1: I'm sure our only option is to call out a murderer in public. Whilst showing our faces. Bad plan #2: I'm sure it's fine if we host a holiday party and station Marines by the door. Because Darhk totes is immune to guys in the service. Obvs. Bad plan #3: Turning myself (Oliver) in is the ONLY plan. Sidebar, Oliver: Darhk wants you to suffer, so he wants your friends to die WHILE you watch. Until you show up, he won't do anything to them. You couldn't have waited a few minutes and come up with a better plan than... Bad plan #4: No, Darhk — a murderer, generally horrible human being, and someone I've never seen live by a code of honor — will totally let everyone walk out, free, if I turn myself in. I mean... seriously guys. No wonder Star(ling) City is constantly in peril. You all have the worst plans.
  • "You LOVE having minions."
  • Revelations: Felicity found out Donna and Quentin are dating; Thea learned it wasn't the Pit that made Darhk unable to harm her; Felicity realizes Oliver was going to propose three months earlier; We meet Curtis's husband!
  • Completely underrated Emily Bett Rickards comedic moment: When she walked away from a conversation with her mother mid-thought, only to walk to Oliver, open her mouth, and then walk away. I don't know why, but that made me giggle.
  • "Oliver, we can take care of ourselves. And that's including Felicity." LAUREL MOTHERFLIPPING LANCE, DROPPING THE BOSTON TEA PARTY OF TRUTH TEAS ONTO YOU, OLIVER.
  • "Honestly, Oliver, this place is even easier to break into than your last lair." John Barrowman continues to have the best line delivery of any actor.
  • Case in point, re: above? "Excellent! You got your bondage outfit on."
  • "Just so you know? If you would have asked me... I would have said yes." Awwww.
  • Felicity's ring is stunning. Geez.
  • We kind of knew that Damien had a family BUT I DID NOT EXPECT TO SEE THEM. WHAT IS HAPPENING THERE? Also, what is H.I.V.E.'s evil plan? It involves corn. I think.
  • You know what are cute? Kids. You know what is creepy? Kids singing over dramatic scenes. No thank you, "Little Drummer Boy" choir of children.
Well, folks, that is it — no more Arrow until 2016. Talk about the mid-season finale in the comments below, including your theories on what's happening on Lian-Yu (as if we care), whether Felicity is alive (duh), or how long it will be until Laurel finds out her dad is dating Felicity's mom! Until then, folks. :)

8 comments:

  1. Man when I saw the shoot out all I could think was Training Day. When the Russian Mob surrounded the car and killed Denzel Washington in a hail of bullets. As for Lian-Yu Oliver went to go find something and then we found out that Reiter discoverd Oliver was lying so something bad is going to happen there. I think he's trying to summon a deamon now that Constantine is apart of the universe.

    Felicity in my personal opinion is dead. Now she could live but with the pit destroyed and the Ghosts pulling a godfather I doubt it. Also I`m glad I was not the only one uncomfortable with Felcity in the gas chamber. But with Mr.Terrific on deck who has a history of being a genius and a corridinator of several teams in the comics.Plus time travel karma instead of Felicity and Oliver breaking up Felcity dies and the marriage is removed.

    Recuping that loss with this loss. Though if I`m right this really sucks I mean Felicity is dead. A good character was just lost and what does that mean for Palmer Tech in the future? Also Dhark has a family? that's odd wonder where that is going.

    So I guess we can only hope and see what happens. Also will you be recaping Legends of Tomorow?

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  2. Oh if Felicity does live its possibile she could be wheelchair bound and thus become Oracle. I would also accept that, though that would leave open who is in the grave.

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  3. Interesting episode and I largely enjoyed it.

    I think I get what what HIVE's plan is now. Combine the name Genysis, Damian's statement that humanity needs a "do-over" and the whole scene with the breathable air underground. Obviously they are building some kind of bunker where a select group of people will wait out some kind of apocalypse engineered by HIVE to kill everyone not in their club. What is it with villains who want to wipe out the world without realizing that they are the very unpleasant element that will poison whatever utopia they think they are going to create. sigh (Or maybe watching old sci-fi this last week has put this idea in my head and HIVE want something else.) So the whole "algae-for-poison-gas" plan that Damian recounted to Oliver was a misdirect? Or was it part of the truth behind why they want Starling City but not the whole story?

    (For someone who doesn't approve of the Nazis Damian Darhk sure follows a similar playbook- make the world a better place for the "worthy" by killing everyone else. The gas chamber was a creepy choice; plenty of windows to watch people die.) Plus, the whole scene where he goes home to an old-world looking Christmas scene while being a horribly creepy person... eww.

    I actually thought that Oliver's plan to rescue his friends was a pretty good one. He put a tracker on and offered himself as a trade. I don't think he necessarily believed that Damian would be an honorable villain. He asked for help from Laurel and Malcolm and led them to the bad guys. I figured his whole spiel about Damian letting his friends go was playing for time. He couldn't let Damian know that he knew backup was coming. Maybe I'm just filling in plot there but it made sense to me at the time. I also really liked their plan to out Damian in the press. Yes, risky move but Damian and HIVE want so badly to be anonymous; taking that away from them was brilliant. If Damian's angry reaction was anything to go by it was an excellent move. Plus, it helps the city a great deal when the adversary has an identity. Nameless, faceless threats that you can't know instill a great deal of fear. The team's plan took a lot of that away. If HIVE was going to fire on crowds with a drone whenever they wanted to anyway it seems a reasonable risk to take.

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  4. I was really pleased that the scene with Thea, Dig and Felicity in the gas chamber wasn't the final cliff-hanger. When there was that much time left at the end of the episode you knew something bad was going to happen. The singing over the whole scene was very creepy, I agree, but I did like peaceful music over an action scene. It made Oliver's drive to safety quite dramatic and I thought it was especially powerful that Damian went after Oliver and Felicity when they were alone. It shows that Oliver has really gotten to Damian; his fellow HIVErs pointed it out to him too. Damian is developing a little vendetta because Oliver has enraged him with his defiance. Damian practically spit out that he doesn't like it when people won't show him the loyalty obedience he believes is due. Talk about hubris. I think that's an interesting weakness to play on. The Green Arrow doesn't seem to make him nearly as mad. I like it.

    - Laurel was great in this episode, she was a little funny, a little smiley, upset with her dad for a moment but not super-pissed at him and talking plenty of sense to Oliver.
    - I love that when Felicity figured out the souffle plan she immediately had to find her mum. Aww!
    - So Donna and Quentin are dating but he didn't register that her last name is Smoak? Not a super common surname. But that scene when Felicity sees them was still comic gold. I wanna see Laurel's face. I wanna see Felicity and Laurel together realizing it. It could be priceless.
    - I feel like the sub-plot with Dig and Andy was tantalizing. "A free-country, for now" line was interesting. I still can't quite pin down what is going on with Andy or where he is coming from but I'm intrigued.
    - The whole shark attack thing in the flashbacks was a bit anti-climactic but it's probably a good thing they didn't try to show more because the shots showing Oliver swimming underwater screamed "CW budget" sadly.
    - What did Malcolm learn during his fight with Damian? Did Damian realize who he was fighting? What is up with the Damian/Thea interaction?
    - I like that the bay became such a focus this episode. It helps me to understand why HIVE gives a crap about Star City.

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  5. Great review..Felicity wil not die.."They found themselves in each other" (partners). We will see this partnership struggle in the coming episodes but I feel that light you refer to will be the season finale. I too like Darhk but I get a little tired of him.. His weakness will be his daughter/wife which Oliver will find out about. I believe that will put BM and William in danger too. This will possibly be where the grave comes in-just a guess. Narratively speaking it would be a good parallel. We also seen in Flarrow episode the same theme of partnership. Barry and Oliver both worked together to kill Savage in the second timeline. The parallels happening in both of these shows is mind boggling. Looking forward to whats coming.

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  6. Great review! Olicity was beautiful in this episode! Stephen and Emily were incredible together! And this episode just showed how endgame Olicity are. Can't wait to see where they go next! Felicity is definitely not dying but 4x10 is still going to be brutal. Oliver is going to be a mess! Stephen is going to be fantastic with all this angst! Charlotte too! Is is January yet?

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  7. Oh! You didn't include the line where Thea sees Malcolm fighting as the Green Arrow and she says REALLY LOUDLY "Is that my father?!?!?!" BWAHAHAHAHA! Best line of the night for me, TBH.

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