I really like Neal McDonough as an actor. He played my favorite villain in FX's "Justified." We had a fun interview earlier this year about the fourth season of "Arrow."
But man, did he need to get punched in the face.
The CW's OG superhero series has been stuck in a rut for most of the past two seasons, trading great episodes for poor ones, never really gaining any kind of momentum, but it's amazing what a little catharsis can do.
Damien Darhk's lifetime undefeated streak against Team Arrow was necessary for us to feel way too good about watching Oliver punch the villain's teeth out at the end of "Taken." But the circuitous narrative of Darhk being unstoppable, yet refusing to kill any of the heroes that stood in his way (because, plot) left us in a holding pattern for much of "Arrow's" fourth season.
The mystery surrounding his power and plans hasn't provided page-turning thrills, it's simply been annoying. His power seemed limitless, ungoverned by any sort of totemic or magical boundary, and it simply made no sense that he hadn't just gone and taken over Star City or the entire world yet.
"Taken" finally gives us some answers on that front, and while I have some issues with the way we got there, our last episode before the month-long break at least provides hope of an enjoyable final act of "Arrow's" fourth season.
Darhk's much-needed beat-down aside, "Taken" really shines on the Oliver-Felicity front, as the reveal of William as Ollie's son finally causes the kind of relationship turbulence the series swung and missed at earlier this season.
Felicity's decision to break off their marriage, for the moment, works beautifully because it's really hard to pick a side here. You can understand Felicity's sense of betrayal over Oliver's decision to hide William's existence just as easily as you can defend Oliver's reasons for doing so. They're both right, they're both wrong, they're both hurting and they both love each other in a way that jumps off the screen.
You have to cheer for these two to get back together (unless you share Darhk's stone-cold heart, of course, you jerk), and that's how you make a viewer care about a relationship storyline in a show that's mostly about people in masks punching each other.
It doesn't hurt that Stephen Amell and Emily Bett Rickards brought their A-game to the dramatic scenes this week. Rickards more or less bored a hole through Oliver as she realized how many people knew about William, and it was hard to watch Amell tear up twice over as he gave up his son only to immediately lose Felicity seconds later.
Oliver and Felicity's relationship drama is so strong that it's easy to lose sight of the systemic "Arrow" problems that are present in "Taken," but I get paid one schilling per nitpick, so here we go.
The show's actions sequences have been less than thrilling to me this year, to the point that I have started to wonder if each episode is using random stock footage of Team Arrow pummeling Ghost soldiers that were shot in the same weekend. This would be less noticeable if the clashes with Darhk weren't "rinse, repeat" (as the bad guy put it) images of Oliver, Thea and others being force choked to near-death over and over again.
All that might seem momentarily forgiven for the pure carnal joy of watching Darhk get his face rearranged, but even that seemed too brief for my likings. Much like the miscalculation of having Oliver slap down Merlyn with ease two weeks ago, wasting a confrontation between the two pugilists who have been cause for some of the series' best action scenes, it seemed like we could have spent a little more time watching Oliver take a chunk out of Darhk.
The guy paralyzed Oliver's fiancee and kidnapped his son, you're telling me it would have killed CW to let our hooded vigilante draw a little more blood from the villain? I'm not asking for a Rob Zombie film or anything, but considering the amount of time the show has spent foreshadowing Oliver's possible need to kill again, we could have at least seen Oliver think about crossing the line here. That was just a missed opportunity here.
Megalyn Echikunwoke is a solid addition to the ever-expanding hero roster as Vixen, though I have to question the decision to hinge such a pivotal season-long plot point to a character who might be unknown to a large part of the audience. Maybe I missed the boat here, but I couldn't be the only one who had to look up the CW "Seed" Web series to reorient myself. The episode did enough to reestablish the character and explain her powers and how she might be of assistance here, but it seemed like an unnecessary risk to possibly confuse the viewer in the middle of a ticking clock/kidnap plot that relied on constant tension.
My government-mandated amount of whining aside, "Taken" was an above-average chapter of "Arrow" in a season that has skewed toward the wrong side of mediocre, one that hopefully clears the playing field for an exciting final slate of episodes.
Left in the quiver:
- "He's literally in Hell." Really? What's the cell service like in hell? Cute joke aside, I'd trade "Legends of Tomorrow" for a CW "Constantine" series in a minute. Don't tease me dialogue writers, just get the chain-smoking sorcerer on my TV on a weekly basis!
- How many times has Thea decided she isn't Malcolm's daughter anymore? And how scary is John Barrowman that I was half convinced he was going to kill her despite having one arm in a sling during that scene? As much as I've enjoyed Darhk this season, the idea of a Merlyn return to prominence is enticing.
- There were flashbacks. Nothing happened. Check back next week.
- Here's your "Arrowverse" scheduling update: The Emerald Archer is on break until March 23, the same week "Flash" returns. "Legends of Tomorrow" will continue airing episodes until March 10.
"Arrow" may be going on break, but @JamesQueallyLAT is a nerd 24/7 and there will be plenty to tweet about during the Archer's hiatus. You can still follow him for tweets, reviews and commentary about the second season of Netflix's "Daredevil" and some drive-by insults (or praise?) about "Batman v. Superman." He also writes about crime and policing in Southern California in the real world.