WARNING: This review contains spoilers
One of the biggest battles we’ve seen in Arrow is that for Oliver’s humanity. In season one Oliver started off as a ruthless vigilante, killing criminals as he saw fit without pausing to feel remorse. However, over the course of the series, and with the help of Felicity, Diggle, Roy, Thea, and Laurel, he’s regained his moral compass and sought to save his city in a just way, not with violence. We’ve seen him be tempted to return to his murderous roots before, but never more so than in this mid-season premiere.
The episode begins with the same funeral scene we saw in the season premiere and Oliver’s promise to kill the person responsible, now only four months away. The episode then jumps back to present day juxtaposing Oliver watching on in agony as doctors work on an unconscious and bloodied Felicity with the Arrow brutally beating a Ghost for information on Damien Darhk’s whereabouts to no avail. He returns to Arrow HQ frustrated, but determined to find and take out Darhk. Laurel tells everyone Felicity is about to go into surgery and suggests they go see her beforehand. Oliver says he should stay here and keep searching for Darhk, justifying his actions by saying it’s what Felicity would want. It’s hard to see it that way though as everyone but Oliver is there for her at the hospital. Emily Bett Rickards doesn’t have much screen time in this episode, but what time she does have she infuses with both vulnerability and strength, as well as a bit of wit, reminding us why we’re so lucky Felicity survived the attack.
Desperate for leads, Oliver also suggests Diggle try again with Andy, leading to him beating his younger up to the points where his own knuckles are bleeding. At home with his wife, she suggests that as hard as it may be, he try to treat Andy not as a traitor or Ghost, but as his brother. She tells him that maybe if Andy saw the love he has for him rather than the anger, he’ll start to open up. In the end, he tries it and apologizes to Andy for using force against him and reminds him that they are brother and he does love him. Andy says that he was never as good as John and claims that he always saw him as a disappointment and was ashamed, which Dig denies. He tells Andy that why he can see why Darhk’s “new beginning” appeals to him that Darhk hurt someone he cares about and asks him for help in finding him. He finally gives in and reveals a location he’s heard Darhk mention before, but that doesn’t prove to be immediately helpful.
Oliver turns to Lance asking for the location of Darhk’s offices where the two have met before, which Quentin gives him. Suited up he arrives but only to find the bodies of Ghosts along with a villian from earlier in the season, Anarky’s, symbol written in blood. The blood doesn’t contain the scrambled DNA of the Ghosts though, but Anarky’s recently missing foster parents Quentin tells Laurel later. With a decent lead finally the gang, sans Felicity, infiltrates Anarky’s guardian’s house to find him. He was expecting Darhk but is pleased to unleash his booby-trapped guns on them as well. He and Thea tangle, and though given the opportunity, Anarky doesn’t kill her, having taken a special interest in her since she inflicted his wounds. With Black Canary’s help though they capture him.
Oliver holds him captive and goes to begin an interrogation when Thea convinces Oliver to go and check on Felicity who just got out of surgery, which apparently didn’t go well. She takes this time to converse with Anarky. He thanks her for burning him, calling it a “baptism by fire” that allowed him to be reborn. He notes the similarities between them and says he knows she wants to kill him, can see it in her eyes. And tells her to go for it. And, if the police hadn’t arrived at that moment, she probably would have. The parallels between these two are absolutely fascinating and I hope we see more interactions between these two in the future. Anarky clearly represents how Thea would act if she let her blood lust loose and stopped resisting. She however, unlike him, is still holding onto her humanity as best she can.
Oliver shows up to the hospital to find Felicity’s mother upset and wondering where he has been. She reveals that the doctors were unable to fix Felicity. She’s paralyzed. It’s a major surprise to Oliver and viewers, but honestly, however tragic, I think it’s a smart choice for the writers to make. This opens up a very interesting storyline for Felicity in dealing with these new physical limitations and how it will affect and change her role on the team. Also, there are very few characters in film and television with physical disabilities so this role (whether Felicity’s condition remains permanent or not) can help increase representation for a group that is sorely under-represented.
In a very questionable move, Oliver next decides to free Anarky from police custody. On what condition? Make sure he’s dead, the Green Arrow tells him. Despite Laurel understandable anger about letting a psychopathic murderer loose, Oliver is set on getting revenge and finding Dahrk. Dig says he’ll stand by Oliver but he should be careful not to loose what made Felicity fall for him in the first place. The tracker Oliver planted on Anarky to track him to Darhk goes out, ruining their efforts.
It takes much too long for Oliver to actually get to Felicity’s bedside, but when he finally does it serves as a great reminder of how in love these two are. Despite her condition, she’s worried about Oliver and wants to make sure he hasn’t gone off the rails and returned to his darker ways. He confesses he has started to question why he even continues as the Arrow when he can’t protect those he loves and wonders if he’d been willing to kill again if things would be better, but she reminds him that nothing is worth losing his humanity for. And Oliver promises her that despite her prognosis he will continue to be there for her, for better or for worse, as he puts her engagement ring back on her finger.
Using the last known location from the tracker and Andy’s tip the team discovers Darhk’s home, where Anarky has Darhk’s wife and daughter held captive and is preparing to torture them. Although Oliver could have easily let them die, he ultimately does the right thing and they rescue them and Thea chases Anarky outside. He taunts her that they have the same desire for death and encourages Speedy to kill him, but she resists proving her own strength to herself. Meanwhile, Oliver runs into Darhk who uses his own arrows against him, demanding the location of his family. Upon learning that the Green Arrow saved his family, Darhk spares his life and gives him a few weeks reprieve to spend with his own family.
In a delicious twist we see learn that Darhk’s family isn’t as innocent they initially appeared. As they head to a new, supposedly safe, location his wife remarks in distaste how the vigilantes saved them. You should have killed the Green Arrow tonight, she says, and reminds her of his promise for a new start and world.
The most shocking moment of the night comes at the very end though with a final flash forward after the mysterious funeral. Oliver enters the back of a vehicle where Felicity, noticeably without her engagement ring, sits in black seeming very distant. Tears brimming in her eyes and anger in her voice she tells him that he needs to kill the man responsible. Throughout the show, and particularly this season, Felicity has acted as Oliver’s good angel, keeping his morals in check and making him a better man. To see her encourage the dark in him rather than bring out the light is a major shift and begs the question yet again as to who is in that grave. Obviously, it’s someone that Felicity thinks could be worth losing their humanity over.