Several months have passed since Oliver Queen defeated Ra's Al Ghul and saved Starling City from The League of Assassins and much has changed. Starling City has changed its name to Star City, in honor of Ray Palmer, presumed dead after a lab accident. John Diggle now leads Laurel Lance and Thea Queen in protecting the city. And Oliver Queen has happily retired to a life of suburban bliss with Felicity Smoak. Alas, it can't last, and when a new threat proves too much for what is left of Team Arrow to cope with, Oliver Queen must once again become someone else.
The comics of Dennis O'Neil, Mike Grell and Kevin Smith (Ollie as a stay-at-home husband), the Titans comics of Devin Grayson (character of Damian Darhk) and the general theme of redemption that dominates so many classic Green Arrow stories.
Everyone seems somewhat skeptical of Oliver's claims that the supernatural is real and that he's seen things when he says that Damien Darhk's powers are mystic in nature... considering that they all saw Thea come back from the dead six months earlier after being exposed to The Lazarus Pit.
Stephen Amell and Emily Bett Rickards play Oliver and Felicity as two clearly different characters. It is clear the time away from Starling City has done wonders for both characters, with Oliver being happier and Felicity being more confident. The chemistry between both actors is incredible.
David Ramsey has often had a thankless job in playing the under-utilized John Diggle. This episode, however, almost makes up for every episode where he had nothing to do but stand in the background and glare at Oliver in silent disapproval until the two of them were alone and he could let him have it. Diggle is front and center with his resentment of Oliver's actions against his family and every moment - from the quiet one with his wife and daughter - to his finally putting all his cards on the table with Oliver as they search for a bomb - is good stuff.
The action scene of Laurel, Diggle and Thea chasing after the HIVE thugs in the Kord Industries truck is a good one.
The script for this episode is strong in one particular theme - redemption. Throughout the episode, Oliver is forced to confront his past mistakes (what Thea has become, how he destroyed his friendship with John Diggle, etc.) and seek a way to move past who he was to become someone else. Someone better. That idea - that someone can become a better person - is the defining characteristic of Oliver Queen's character in all of his various incarnations. And that transformation in this episode is handled beautifully.
Ollie being a fantastic chef is a direct nod to the comics. While he's primarily famous for his chili recipe, Oliver was frequently depicted experimenting in the kitchen in his spare time in the comics by Dennis O'Neil, Mike Grell and Kevin Smith.
Ollie living as a house-husband is also a nod to the Mike Grell comics. While nominally employed by Dinah Lance as a delivery man and assistant at her floral business after the two moved in together, Ollie mostly concerned himself with tending to their home when he wasn't playing vigilante.
In the original comics, Damian Darhk was an enemy of The Titans, making his first appearance in the first issue of the Devin Grayson run on that series. A mysterious figure and something of a tech-guru, Darhk was a major player in the criminal underworld and had connections with H.I.V.E. Curiously, he had the appearance of a 20-year-old man despite his apparent connections and experience. He was seemingly killed by Vandal Savage, but apparently gained immortality after his blood merged with that of the HIVE Mistress.
The DCTVU version of Damian Darhk is a decidedly different character, apart from being definitively identified as the leader of HIVE and a former member of The League of Assassins who was enlisted at the same time as Ra's Al Ghul. Darhk is a magician rather than a tech-based villain, capable of telekinesis (he stops the arrows Ollie shoots at him), teleportation (he disappears off the train after Diggle shoots him) and he possess some kind of ability to drain the life out of people with a touch. We see Darhk performing some kind of ritual that requires spilling his own blood before an idol near the episode's end.
HIVE - the organization that Damian Darhk runs - is a reference to another villain group that fought The Teen Titans and Superman in the comics. HIVE stands for Hierarchy of International Vengeance and Extermination and the group was involved in various criminal schemes with an ultimate goal of world domination. In the DCTVU reality, they apparently hired Deadshot to kill Andy Diggle, John's brother.
In the New 52 comics, HIVE stands for Holistic Integration for Viral Equality. Otherwise, they are much the same as the original HIVE. The group formed an uneasy alliance with the psychic villain Hector Hammond and were responsible for the lab accident that turned Dr. Caitlin Snow into the villain Killer Frost.
Kord Industries - the company HIVE steals the cluster-bombs from - is a reference to the company of DC Comics hero Ted Kord a.k.a. The Blue Beetle. The truck HIVE steals is decorated in light blue with dark blue piping - the same colors as Ted Kord's costume in the comics.
Thea is still referred to by the code-name Speedy in the field. At one point she asks to be called The Red Arrow. In the original comics, Speedy was the first code-name used by Roy Harper, who later became known as The Red Arrow when he joined The Justice League.
The scene where Amanda Waller takes Oliver to a bar opens on a shot of a leather aviator jacket with the name Jordan sewn onto the chest. This is a reference to the signature jacket of Hal Jordan, who was Oliver Queen's best friend in the comics and also the first Earthling to become a member of The Green Lantern Corps.
It's also worth noting that Oliver and Amanda Waller were in Coast City - Hal Jordan's home town in the comics.
It is revealed near the end of the episode that the suburb Ollie and Felicity moved into is called Ivy Town. In the comics, Ivy Town was Ray Palmer's home town and he was employed as a college professor at Ivy University.
The weapons stolen from Kord Industries by HIVE are cluster bombs with built-in GPS unites. These bombs are censor-fused and high-yield - the most powerful non-nuclear bombs in the world.
Oliver is given a backpack with AES-Encrypted Communication Gear before he is dropped back on Lian Yu, in the Five Years Ago flashback.
Oliver: (To Felicity) You're uncharacteristically quiet.
Felicity: What should I say? Our friends need our help. We should be in the car.
Oliver: I don't need a therapist.
Waller: The hood and eye make-up suggest otherwise.
(As they drive past a row of closed down businesses and boarded up homes)
Oliver: Jeez. It's tough not to look out this window and wonder.
Felicity: Wonder what?
Oliver: What did we really accomplish?
Diggle: That's pretty forgiving considering he kidnapped you six months ago.
Lyla: You know why he did. You have to let go of it sometime. I did.
Diggle: That's because you're better than me. That's one of the reasons why I love you.
Lyla: It was war, John. Maybe not against a country, but it was war. And in times of war, we do what we have to do.
Diggle: Really, Lyla? I mean, that include lying to me? Lying to Felicity? What was the point?
Lyla: Oliver did what he thought he had to do to defeat Ra's. I'm not saying he made the right choice. But if Oliver Queen always made the right choice, he wouldn't need you.
Oliver: Saw that you took my advice on the identity concealment...
Diggle: (sighs) Oliver, man - what are we doing? Pretending everything's normal? That we are normal?
Oliver; I'm looking for a way in.
Diggle: I was furious with you that you trusted Malcolm Merlyn more than you trusted me. But then I realized that I'm not angry at you. I'm angry at myself for thinking that you're someone that you clearly aren't.
Oliver: I don't know what that means.
Diggle: Oliver, after everything that we've been through, man, I couldn't fathom why you didn't trust me. But then I realized that you couldn't. That's not who you are. You don't trust. You don't love. You were able to fool Ra's and join The League because inside you are every bit as dark as they are.
Lance: The prodigal arrow returns.
Oliver: Captain Lance.
Lance: I thought that was you last night, some mask over your head. Felt like old times.
Oliver: I was only trying to help.
Lance: If that were true, you wouldn't have come back. This town started going to crap the moment you put on that hood. You brought madness into all our lives and the monster you were inspired monsters.
Oliver: Maybe. But I'm not a monster anymore.
Lance: Then what are you?!
Felicity: I love our new home. And I love you. But I also love it here and you can't honestly tell me that you don't.
Oliver: Yeah, no, of course! I miss aspects of it. The sense of purpose. The idea of helping people. But Lance was right.
Felicity: About what?
Oliver: A few months ago he told me that all I brought back from the island was pain, misery and darkness. And of course I knew that the moment we came back here that darkness would be waiting for me.
Felicity: Well, he's wrong. Dead wrong. You didn't bring the darkness back with you from Lian Yu!
Oliver: But, Felicity, I'm telling you that the only way I know to fight the darkness is to be darkness. That is why I left! I don't want to be that type of person anymore!
Felicity: Well, maybe you need to be a different kind of person. And you're not doing this alone anymore.
Damien Darhk: You can't be The Arrow. He died. So who are you?
Ollie: You're about to find out.
The Green Arrow: Six months ago, The Arrow died. But what he stood for didn't. It lived on in the heroes who took up his mantle. People who believe that this city should never descend into hopelessness. Who believe although life is filled with darkness, that darkness can be the key to find light. And tonight, I am declaring my intention to stand with them - to fight for this city! To be the symbol of hope that The Arrow never was. I am... The Green Arrow!
Thea: I thought I told you you guys to call me Red Arrow!
Diggle: A red arrow just means you can't make a left turn.
Five years ago, Oliver operated as a vigilante in Coast City, targeting drug dealers who dealt to children. He was discovered by Amanda Waller, who drugged him and arranged for him to be dropped onto Lian Yu as part of a reconnaissance mission, where he was almost immediately captured by a man in camouflage.
Waller makes reference to Oliver's bloody killing of General Shrieve in 323.
As the episode opens, Ollie and Felicity have settled in the suburbs of Ivy Town. Ollie is a house-husband and Felicity is the Acting CEO In Absentia of Palmer Technologies, though she is trying to convince the Tech Board that she can take over the position permanently.
Ollie has become a brilliant chef in the past five months. Felicity is not so gifted.
Ollie had the dragon tattoo on his shoulder surgically removed, saying he didn't need it anymore. The tattoo was originally forced onto Oliver in 217 by Slade Wilson as a reminder of Shado's death.
Diggle now wears a helmet that obscures and protects his face along with black tactical gear and a black leather jacket as a costume.
According to Diggle and Thea, Kord Industries are one of the largest weapons manufacturers in the DCTVU. They also manufacture consumer goods, including "awesome cel phones."
Walter Steele - Oliver and Thea's step-father, last seen at Moira Queen's funeral in 221 - was apparently approached about running for Mayor of Star City. He declined.
Captain Lance notes that Star City has lost three mayors and one mayoral candidate in the last three years. We witnessed these events in 201 (Mayor Altman was killed by The Hoods), 220 (Moira Queen murdered by Slade Wilson), 222 (Mayor Sebastian Blood killed by Isabel Rochev) and 317 (Mayor Castle killed by League of Assasins to frame The Arrow for murder).
The foot-soldiers of HIVE are dubbed "ghosts" by the press, due to how quickly they disappear after committing a crime. They are all equipped with cyanide pills and will kill themselves rather than talk.
Captain Lance describes some of Star City's attempts to improve the image of their city in the wake of three disasters in as many years. Apart from changing their name (in honor of the presumed dead Ray Palmer), they've also begun a new tourism program and constructed a high-speed railway between Star City and Central City.
Captain Lance makes a reference to Central City holding a Flash Day event. We saw this in episode F201.
All of the city leaders except for Captain Lance are killed by HIVE. These include the District Attorney, The Comptroller and Head of Emergency Services.
Ollie attempts to propose to Felicity twice over the course of the episode, using his mother's engagement ring that belonged to his mother. One attempt is thwarted by the sudden arrival of Thea and Laurel. The other is abandoned in the middle of moving into Thea's old loft.
Cisco Ramon made Oliver a new costume six months earlier. Ollie dons this new costume to become The Green Arrow.
Thea Queen has become a much more aggressive fighter, nearly killing one HIVE agent before Ollie stops her during Team Arrow's raid on The HIVE Hideout they discover. Presumably this is a side-effect of her resurrection in The Lazarus Pit in 320.
Oliver identifies Damien Darhk's powers as magical and says that he has seen mystical things in his past without elaborating.
By the episode's end, Ollie and Felicity have moved into Thea's loft. We learn that Thea has apparently been living with Laurel, not wanting to stay in her old loft as she was killed by Ra's Al Ghul there.
When Ollie says that Ra's Al Ghul specifically identified Damien Darhk's organization as "a hive", this triggers a flashback in Diggle, who remembers Deadshot's words in 206 regarding HIVE - the group that hired him to kill John's brother, Andy. He does not share this information with the rest of Team Arrow.
It is also revealed that Captain Lance is working with Damien Darhk.
In the final scene of the episode, we see a flash-forward six months. Ollie is seen at a graveside alone and is briefly joined by Barry Allen, who apologizes for missing the funeral, saying that he was busy dealing with Zoom. We do not see who the grave belongs to.
Felicity apparently helped Diggle, Laurel and Thea with several cases during the five months she and Oliver were away from Star City.
At some point in his past, Oliver Queen has seen proof that magic is real.
The Fridge Factor
Laurel sucks at keeping her highly illegal vigilante lifestyle under wraps. She's abandoned any pretense of disguising her hair with a wig.
When the D.A. starts dying beside her, Laurel shouts for someone else to call 911 while she is getting on her own phone out. She then begins talking on the phone, with several people in earshot, about Diggle and Thea needing to check on the other city leaders. Nobody finds the assistant DA's lack of concern for her boss at all suspicious.
Later on, after she's saved her father from the HIVE assassins who came after him, Laurel casually talks to her father, in costume, in front of several cops, who think nothing is odd about their vigilante-hating boss NOT shouting for someone to help him cuff the woman in the mask.
Thea's shooting a smoke arrow into the middle of a crowd before trying to evacuate them is an incredibly stupid move.
The Winick Factor
I was hard pressed on where to put the examples of Laurel and Thea's incompetence. Ultimately, I decided to put them in The Fridge Factor above instead of The Winick Factor simply because none of the male characters exhibited such issues.
The Bottom Line
A solid start with a lot of mysteries for the viewers to consider and an interesting wrinkle as magic is introduced into the DCTVU. Unfortunately, the show is still struggling to give Laurel anything useful to do and Thea is barely any better. Still, Darhk has a strong first appearance as the big-bad for the season and the chemistry between Stephen Amell and Emily Bett Rickards saves a lot of scenes that might otherwise have fallen flat.