One recurring complaint about Arrow last season was that there was too much talk and not enough action. To the show’s credit, season four has felt more energetic and lively than the third. But in “Dark Waters,” Arrow overcorrects that criticism by jamming what could essentially be two episodes worth of plot into one. On the surface, there are a lot of exciting elements (A kidnapping! An Olicity proposal! Malcolm in cosplay!), but those bright moments only temporarily distract from an otherwise rushed and clumsy episode.
Thankfully, we’re back in Star City this week. Specifically, the episode opens at Star City Bay, where Oliver and his campaign volunteers are cleaning up the bay’s shore and water as part of a “Save the Bay” initiative. Suddenly, Damien Darhk’s armed drones drop in from the sky and shoot into the crowd. Felicity and her magic tablet, however, manage to save the day when she hacks into their software and disengages the drones. Oliver is so shaken by Darhk’s attack that he’s ready to go on the offensive. He holds a press conference and reveals Darhk’s name and picture to the world.
While Team Arrow strategizes about Darhk, Mama Smoak is on the hunt for Hanukkah decorations at Oliver and Felicity’s loft. As she explains to Felicity, Mama Smoak wants to be sure that Felicity’s Jewish heritage is well represented at Oliver’s campaign holiday party. While rummaging through a box of Christmas lights, Mama Smoak discovers Oliver’s ring from the season premiere, and Felicity's eyes widen with delight. Oliver is going to propose!
Later, at the campaign holiday party, Felicity meets Curtis’s husband, Paul, who, in talking about his own engagement to Curtis, remarks that straight people tend to hide their engagement rings in dessert. Felicity’s mouth drops as she puts two and two together. Oliver isn’t going to propose in the future, but rather, he had almost proposed the night that Thea and Laurel interrupted their soufflé à deux. Felicity does what any grown woman would do in this situation. She runs to find her mother!
Felicity finds Mama Smoak dancing and smooching with none other than Quentin Lance. It’s a fun, playful scene, as Quentin makes the connection that Felicity is Mama Smoak’s daughter. He implies that Felicity should keep his new romance hush-hush, as “Laurel doesn’t know.” (Secret romances, secret identities, secret magical pits … does anyone on this show tell Laurel anything? Man, I would be bummed to find out that I’m the Laurel in someone’s life.) Alone with her mom, Felicity shares the soufflé theory, and Mama Smoak asks the obvious question: What is Oliver waiting for?
Felicity, as we know, hates mysteries, and makes a beeline for Oliver but stops short of confronting him. Oliver can sense her distress and quickly prods it out of her. (I love how direct and honest they are with each other, with the baby-mama subplot from last week being a huge exception.) When she wants to know why he never followed through with his proposal plan, he explains that “everything changed” after they returned to Star City. Felicity doesn’t see that it has to be either a dangerous crime-fighting life or marriage. The girl wants it all.
Before Oliver has a chance to respond, Damien Darhk crashes the holiday party. He grabs a glass of Malbec as he orders his men to grab the people that mean the most to Oliver — Felicity, Diggle, and Thea. With the flick of his magic wrist, Darhk sends Oliver flying through the glass window of his campaign office. Oliver later wakes up from his fall to find a crying Mama Smoak begging for the return of her daughter. Up until now, the “Green Arrow” version of Oliver has felt softer and more centered. But after learning of Felicity’s kidnapping, Stephen Amell immediately adopts his old alpha-male tone. As much as I love that Oliver’s found peace in his relationship with Felicity, I miss the more aggro version at times. It was fun to see him in action, punching out ghosts here and there.
But Arrow’s violent ways aren’t working on the ghosts, so a frustrated Arrow returns to the lair. Laurel’s there, with her crossed arms and a weird attitude. “Oliver, we’ll find them,” she says. On paper, this sounds like a supportive statement, but Katie Cassidy reads the line with a dismissive, annoyed tone, making it seem like Oliver’s overreacting. But if there were ever a time to overact, it’s when the big bad has captured the three people you care most about. This may seem like a nitpick, but these kinds of small missteps can easily pull viewers out of the story. Instead of focusing on Oliver’s quest, I’m wondering why Laurel doesn’t care about her closest friends being kidnapped.
The Arrow’s ghost interrogations reach a standstill, as they’d rather kill themselves than give up Darhk. Oliver calls Laurel and Lance to the lair to strategize. No one has any ideas, but luckily, Malcolm does! He waltzes into the lair and immediately bends back Lance’s arm violently. “We’re pressed for time, but suffice to say, I’m a little less dead than most people think,” Malcolm says to a confused Lance before immediately launching into his plan to contact Darhk through a ghost cell phone. John Barrowman sells this dialogue as best as anyone could, but this is exactly the kind of scene that could have benefited from some breathing room.
Oliver uses the cell phone to contact Darhk so he can trade himself in exchange for Team Arrow. The next scene is kind of baffling. Darhk brings Oliver into a large warehouse space with a brightly lit box and starts talking about how the Nazis perfected the gas chamber. He notes that the Nazis were necessary because “every now and then the world needs a reset, a do-over.” I get the connection the writers are trying to make in that H.I.V.E. must have an analogous agenda, but it felt a bit out of left field. That moment was made worse, however, when Darhk brought out a volunteer to test the gas chamber (i.e., to die) and the volunteer was wearing prisoner clothes that closely resembled those of concentration-camp victims. It was a step too far and cheapened the gravity of that real-life tragedy.
Darhk later reveals that, despite his “deal” with Oliver, he’s not going to release Team Arrow after all because as long as those three are alive, Oliver will always have something to fight for. Darhk’s guards lock Felicity, Thea, and Diggle into the gas chamber. Oliver breaks away from the guards holding him and runs and bangs on the soundproof glass. There’s a lovely and heartbreaking moment between Oliver and Felicity as they silently mouth “I love you” to each other through the glass. (Amell and Emily Bett Rickards’s outstanding performances in this entire episode really saved “Dark Waters” for me.) As the gas starts to fill the chamber, Black Canary and “Arrow” show up to the rescue. Black Canary’s cry cracks the gas-chamber glass, which allows Oliver to break it open and rescue everyone. The “Arrow” who’s appeared is none other than Malcolm! This twist tickled me so. Everyone manages to escape.
Cut to a night scene back at Star City Bay, where Oliver and Company are holding a holiday tree-lighting ceremony. Oliver brings Felicity on the stage with him and tells the crowd that Felicity “is the one who lights my way.” Oliver looks at her with such utter love and sweetness, there’s only one thing that’s coming next: the proposal! He bends down on his knee to ask, and Felicity, bending down to meet him, says yes to the mess that is life with Oliver. Even though I knew the proposal was coming, it’s still a thrilling moment, especially considering that, for much of the series, no one was even sure if the show was ever going to take Olicity in an official direction.
Everything’s great! Everything’s grand! Olicity leave the ceremony in a limousine, where they start to kiss sweetly. I’m thinking this is an awesome time for the show to start playing Beyoncé’s “Partition” and turn things up a notch, but instead I hear a ghostly choir rendition of “Little Drummer Boy.” Hmmm, okay. At first, it’s strange to hear such a serious holiday song when they are so happy, but then I remember I’m watching Arrow. Cars start to surround the limo as Oliver and Felicity kiss. Ghosts jump out of the car and spray the limo with bullets. They kill the driver, and Oliver gallantly covers Felicity with his body to protect her. He finally manages to jump to the front seat and drive the limo to safety. Once the limo is stopped, Oliver opens the door to the backseat to check on Felicity and pulls her lifeless body out of the car.
Oliver deep-dives (With his shirt on? Pfffffft) near the freighter to figure out what magical item Reiter is looking for, and Conklin catches him in the act. But, more important, a mother-effing CGI shark bites Oliver!
- The proposal scene really is the nail in the Laurel/Oliver coffin, right? I don’t see how they’d ever come back after that. (AND DON’T SAY “MAYBE IF FELICITY DIES,” BECAUSE YOU ARE MEAN AND WRONG.)
- “No mask for you?” Malcolm to Lance, who is decidedly not wearing a bondage outfit.
- “You are not the boss of me, ” Felicity explains to Oliver, who wants to “protect” her. If there’s anyone who is curious about why Felicity is so beloved, it’s because of scenes like this.
- I wish there had been enough time to have more than one Oliver-on-his-knees fake-out proposal. It could have been a fun running gag.
- Yikes, looks like Darhk recognized Thea at the holiday party from their encounter a few weeks ago.
- Darhk has a family! Maybe Oliver will be able to exploit that as a weakness. Also: Darhk has a cornfield?
MISSING THE MARK
- With multiple references to terrorists and shooting in crowds, some scenes were jarring to watch in light of recent events. I know this episode was written and filmed prior to the recent terrorist attacks, but it would have been nice to have a note at the outset acknowledging that.
- I wonder if this episode would have had to be so rushed if there hadn’t been multiple Arrow episodes devoted to Legends of Tomorrow plot points prior to this.
- Overall, I enjoyed the larger twists and story arcs, but save for the Olicity scenes, the execution of all the smaller moments didn’t quite jell, and the show’s usually sharp and witty dialogue felt a little uninspired.
NUMBER OF SHIRTLESS STEPHEN AMELL SCENES: 0 (SMH, Arrow, SMH)
Arrow returns January 20, 2016. Until then, come find me on Twitter and hold me and tell me that it’ll all be okay.