Arrow "S4E9 Dark Waters" - Review: A winter finale of hits but a few misses

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Arrow "S4E9 Dark Waters" - Review: A winter finale of hits but a few misses

Dark Waters – When Oliver Queen makes the dangerous move of outing Damien Darhk and HIVE to the public, Darhk responds by capturing those closest to him that will take the help of Merlyn to save. Meanwhile in the flashbacks, Oliver dives on the sunken wreckage of the Amazo to recover its maps of the island.

Ever since the “Oliver Queen for Mayor” storyline began the promise has been that we’d see Oliver Queen taking on the bad guys as well as The Green Arrow, fighting them as much in the light of day as in the shadows. Now, we’re really starting to see that as this episode cranks that up a few notches, making Darhk just as concerned about potential Mayor Oliver as he is his vigilante problem. Yet the big difference is we see that the unmasked Oliver has a better much chance of hurting him with his words, politics and public support than Green Arrow does in combat. It’s actually Darhk himself who sells this the best as he watches Oliver outing on TV. Neal McDonough is doing a fantastic job with his character this season in the bipolar nature of his performance. Flashing that big (almost baby-faced) grin in his predominant state of self-assurance, but when that frown turns upside down and the killer comes out from behind the clown the effect is staggering. It’s the facial equivalent of when the S-word “just got real” in a Michael Bay movie. Darhk’s actions towards to people of Star City still instill an over-abiding sense of fear an unease such as his early drone attack on the bay clean up volunteers.

For the second week in a row, Merlyn is on absolute fire! He is by far the most fun part of the episode as he jests about the new cave being even easier than the last to break into or refers to Laurel’s outfit as bondage gear (ok, he may have point there). We even get to see him joining the ranks of Roy and Diggle in wearing Oliver’s costume and arguably delivering the most convincing job in it yet (Dig, we love you but you’re not an archer). His character is also very well-positioned in terms of his involvement and the League of Shadows. Being the current Ra’s al Ghul gives him the privilege to come and go from the League’s activities as he will whenever Thea requires his assistance, but his notion about keeping the League out of the conflict creates a much a more detailed and realistic picture of events. That Merlyn understands how powerful HIVE is and cannot risk going to war with them as even a victory would could at too heavy a cost. This reinforces his character a schemer and strategic thinking. Although many of us are still dying to know about his connection to Vandal Savage after last week’s shock ending, he still manages to delight with this episode’s offerings.

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The story of Diggle and his brother is struggling a lot more than expected. David Ramsey is trying his absolute best to bring in the emotion during their exchanges but his brother/Andy’s stonewalling “Am I bothered?” demeanour is completely uninspiring. Yes, by all means make this a long and difficult journey of rehabilitation but let Andy at least react to something, even if only in anger or frustration at his captivity rather than looking more lifeless than the bars of his cage. Another odd shortcoming is Curtis/Mr Terrific. While it’s fun to meet his husband in person, his character feels more shoved into the mix than integral. In fact, after a couple weeks' absence, it feels difficult to judge where his character is going on his journey to masking up.

The relationship drama aspects have long been the most precarious part of any Arrow episode but this week, they find their mark by having a significant comedic focus to many of their scenes. Although only brief the stars undoubtedly Quentin Lance and Felicity’s mom/Donna, especially in Felicity’s reaction as she catches them in action and Quentin asks her not to tell Laurel yet. While this week’s slice of Olicity does take things to a more serious place, it succeeds by making Felicity take the approach of the anti-damsel. She understands the risks of being seen as someone he cares about as the episode literally shows, and he doesn’t have the right to make that decision for her.

Like last season, the episode goes big for a mid-season cliff-hanger yet it can’t reach the same heights. Just like the character in question here, there was no doubt that Oliver Queen would not die and would return. The episode goes for shock value and spectacle in how that peril is approached but it just doesn’t feel as impacting. This isn’t helped with the “previously on Arrow” flashbacks pushing the unknown gravestone twist from the first episode, which it shown as being “6 months later” meaning we’re nowhere near the time of that death and anyone with 1st grade level math or most of their fingers still attached can reach that conclusion. It’s still a good thread to leave us hanging on but overall, it feels like it could have been handled better.

Despite the end cliff-hanger missing the bull’s eye, Arrow still concludes for the year in good form. The full team assault/break out of the HIVE facility delivers some great action their “Genesis” plans grow ever more intriguing. The flashbacks make a fun call back to season 2 and do feel like they’re heading somewhere unlike some previous weeks. The villain elements of Darhk and Merlyn are running in danger of stealing the season. Arrow is maybe wading into dark waters, but it’s still swimming strong against the current.

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