Still reeling from the revelation that his brother was secretly a warlord and drug-runner in Afghanistan, John Diggle is even more stunned to learn that his brother's death may have been faked and that Andy Diggle has become a HIVE Agent! At the same time, Damien Darhk tries to win over Oliver Queen into accepting his help. And Malcolm Merlyn shows up in town, offering to help Thea find suitable targets for her rage..
The John Woo film Hard Boiled (The Thea/Andy fight was cited as a direct inspiration by director James Bamford), The New Teen Titans comics of Marv Wolfman and George Perez (HIVE, Thea's striving to conquer her emotions mirror Raven's battle to do the same), the Green Arrow comics of Elliot S! Maggin (Oliver Queen running for mayor) and Green Arrow: Year One (the Lian Yu sequences).
Again, Team Arrow's stance on non-lethal force is rather unclear with Thea being allowed to carry a sword into the field and Ollie seemingly shooting people dead even before John throws an explosive arrow into someone's chest before blowing up three HIVE ghosts.
Also, John throws an exploding arrow into someone's chest?!
David Ramsey doesn't get the center stage often on Arrow. But when he does, as he does here, it is always a special episode. The interplay between Ramsey and Stephen Amell has been a high point of Season 4 so far but it comes to a peak here.
On that note, Stephen Amell nails it when he delivers a speech that is basically the greatest summation of Oliver Queen as a character in any media - where Oliver explains that he needs to believe in the idea of redemption and that anyone, no matter how far they go into the darkness, can always find the light. This is a lesson that all the great Green Arrow writers have understood.
Like David Ramsey, Willa Holland doesn't get much chance to shine on the show and even her subplot here - which has her spazing out in front of her new love interest - seems to get the short end of the stick compared to the other on-going storylines. This is a shame because Holland herself has never been stronger as Thea than she is here, standing up to Merlyn and insisting that she will not remain a killer or kowtow to him.
Again, Neal McDonough steals every scene he is in as Damien Darhk.
The script for this episode is a work of wonder. Virtually every member of the cast is given at least one moment to shine (even Laurel!) and there are a lot of grand speeches that shouldn't work in live action but do thanks to the sterling cast.
On that note, the direction - by show fight choreographer James Bamford - is amazing. The fight scenes have never looked better and even standard moments (such as the usual entrance of the villains on motorcycles) are made more vibrant by adding in jumps. And the fight in which Thea takes on Andy Diggle - while borrowing a fair bit from the new Daredevil show - has enough innovations that it doesn't seem like a total rip-off.
Wolfman Biologics - the company that holds that patent on Lastrapium Trioxide - is a reference to Marv Wolfman - the writer who co-created H.I.V.E. with George Perez during their now legendary run on New Teen Titans.
Another mention of the number 52 - Quentin spots a note that Darhk has some kind of business occurring at Starling Dock at Slip 52.
The name of the woman that Oliver saved in the flashback is confirmed in this episode as Taiana. This is the same name as the woman who helped Oliver during his first adventure as The Green Arrow in Green Arrow: Year One.
Ray determines that the genetic code of the HIVE agent Team Arrow took the tooth from had been selective degraded. He thinks it was done with a synthetic compound, like a chemical CRISPR/Cas9.
Specifically, it is Lastrapium Trioxide, which is a yellow liquid.
Ray is able to trace Darhk's base through the tooth, after detecting higher than normal levels of sodium fluoride in the polymer the tooth was made from.
Curtis develops a new body camera with infrared lenses that allow Felicity to see through the masks of HIVE's ghosts and identify them.
(Oliver looks over the file John got from Lance about Andy Diggle)
Ollie: Where did you get this?
John: I got that from Lance. Who got it from Damien Darhk.
Ollie: John... this...
John: Pretty definitive evidence. That HIVE had Andy killed because his criminal operations conflicted with theirs.
Ollie: That doesn't track at all with what you've told me about Andy.
John: Oliver, that doesn't track with what I knew about Andy!
John: I guess I never knew him at all...
Ollie: There's got to be some explanation. Maybe he was undercover?
John: Hey, man, listen - it's all right there.The facts are the facts.
Ollie: All I'm saying - Andy was your brother and he deserves the benefit of the doubt. Trust me. Things aren't always what they seem.
Alex: I think your brother's onto us.
Thea: No. No, and even if he was, it's not like he's the boss of me.
Alex: No. He's the boss of ME.
Thea: I know.
Alex: I'm just glad your brother's not a killer.
Oliver: What are you going to do to him?
Baron Reiter: Nothing. I believe the wrong should make things right.
(In response to the news Andy Diggle isn't dead, in the understatement of the year)
Felicity: Well, even death's not permanent anymore.
Damien Darhk: Trust is an orchid-- beautiful but delicate. Requiring ideal conditions in order to thrive. Without those conditions, it dies. Tread carefully, Quentin. Believe it or not, the death of your daughter is not the most terrible thing that I can threaten you with.
Felicity: (To Oliver) Well, this is actually a better way than how you usually spend your evenings-- dressing in leather and tying people up.
(An older woman looks at them strangely and walks away very quickly.)
John: When I had to look... my nephew in the eye and tell him that... He was never going to see his daddy again... (Chokes up) The months after Andy died were the darkest times of my life. I would have given anything, anything to get Andy back. I would have sacrificed my life to have him back with his wife and his son. (pauses) I would have traded my life for a stranger.
Ollie: How you holding up?
John: Ah, I guess as good as can be expected, right? Nothing really to compare this to. At least not this week.
Ollie: I'm asking you to hold out hope for Andy because I need that hope. I need to believe that no matter what happens in our lives, no matter how much darkness infects us, I need to believe that we can come back from that!
John: And it was exactly that thinking that led you to the League last year. Doesn't seem like you learned much from that.
Ollie: Felicity told you?
John: Getting in bed with Darhk, Oliver? I don't see how you can even consider it.
Ollie: We are going to take this guy down and no idea is off the table.
John: I thought you're doing things differently, Oliver? Fighting Darhk from the inside is just fighting Darhk in the shadows. You want to do things differently? You want ideas? Fine. Let's take this son of a bitch down in the light of day.
Ray: I've been catching up on the past six months. My company, my city, my life. And I feel like Tom Sawyer watching his own funeral. Except in my case, nobody really cares.
Felicity: That is not true, Ray.
Ray: Renaming Starling Star City is nice, but then take a look to what's happened to the place. And my company - this thing I've built that was supposed to outlast me, is now on life support.
Felicity: Because it needs you.
Ray: To do what? The same thing I was doing before I died? Obviously that didn't amount to anything.
Felicity: Oh, self-pity is not a good look on you.
Ray: Ah, I don't think it's self-pity. I think it's self-reflection. If I'm going to come back to life, I have to figure out what it is that I'm living for.
(As John shoots someone who was about to kill him)
Ollie: It's, uh, nice of you to show up.
John: My brother needed me. (beat) The green one.
Ollie: Thank you all for coming. My, uh, my campaign advisor doesn't think that saving the Bay is the right fight given the state the city is in. But I'd like everyone to know that I'm not blind to Star City's problems. And I wouldn't be here today if I wasn't confident that this program could help solve them. And the reason I chose the Bay is because it's in the center of the city. It's out in the open. For everyone to see. The fight to save Star City isn't going to be fought in the shadows. It's going to be fought in the light of day. And I promise you, all of you, that I will never stop fighting to save this city!
Felicity refers to the tooth they took off the HIVE agent in 403. She and Curtis spent a month analyzing it.
John shows Oliver the file on his brother that he got from Lance in 405.
Vlad - the man Oliver killed in the flashback in 406 - was the brother of the woman whose life he saved in 404.
Thea made a D Minus in Civics.
Felicity refers to a ghost who could have killed John but didn't during a fight at a lumberyard a month earlier. This occurred in 403.
Baron Reiter has some form of magical lie-detector that looks like a bunch of twigs.
Damien Darhk refers to Jessica Danforth's short-lived run for mayor back in 402.
Felicity lists off Oliver's worst ideas from the past three years including fight dueling Ra's Al Ghul (309), infiltrating The League of Assassins (320) and dating The Huntress (108).
John refers to The Flash and The Lazarus Pit healing Thea (320) when listing off unlikely things that caused him to think about his brother coming back from the dead.
Darhk has some kind of drug - a yellow pill - that insures the obedience of his men.
The woman Oliver saved in the flashback is named Taiana. He tells her that her brother is dead but not that he did it.
HIVE is moving military crates labeled G6:5.
Darhk has some ability to teleport short distances that he uses to cut off Thea's escape.
Darhk's "death touch" ability does not work on Thea for some reason and is, in fact, turned against him. This likely has something to do with Thea having been revived by The Lazarus Pit. Thea shares this knowledge with Merlyn.
Andy Diggle confirms that everything in the folder John has is true.
Oliver steals a map from Baron Reiter that he thinks leads to his objective.
The Bottom Line
Easily the best episode of Season 4 so far. Everything is perfectly balanced. From the fantastic script which gives every character at least one good moment to the direction of the fight scenes and all the nuanced performances. Wonderful. Just wonderful.