I guess Damien Darhk wasn't kidding about that reprieve.
With the archfiend of "Arrow" nowhere to be found, the Emerald Archer is able to take a back seat in "A.W.O.L.," giving us our annual Diggle episode with a nice side helping of inner turmoil for Felicity.
It's a formulaic episode in some ways, as Diggle-heavy chapters always feature A.R.G.U.S. and Felicity is the latest character to deal with the "Arrow" trope of characters seeing visions as a result of trauma, but it works just fine. People love Diggle. People love Felicity. Game. Set. Match.
Previous Diggle episodes have focused on the complicated relationship between Diggle and the assassin Deadshot, but with Floyd Lawton no longer with us, "A.W.O.L." serves as a close to the bubbling tension between John and little brother Andy.
For the most part, the episode hits all the notes that make a Diggle episode work. We get to see Dig and Lyla work their husband-and-wife soldier routine a bit, and at least two scenes feature the couple and Amanda Waller giving each other massive side-eye as they internally grumble over the other's espionage tactics.
The catharsis of Andy finally choosing to stand by his family, however, was a little blunted by happenings from the week before. While I still found myself wondering if Diggle could really trust little brother to help him out as the Shadowspire agents held Lyla at gunpoint, that tension would have been much higher if the brothers hadn't had something of a reconciliation last week.
I mentioned in my "Blood Debts" review that Andy's decision to cough up information on Darhk seemed a little rushed, but the damage was negligible to last week's action. It's more of a problem here, because now I have no reason to believe Andy might betray his older brother again at this critical moment. Had Diggle been forced to gamble Lyla's life on his little brother's loyalty (and he honestly had no other choice) that closing fight scene would have been far tenser and more engaging.
Aside from the blunting of the arc's climax, everything else Diggle and Andy works well here, giving us a much fuller account of the brothers' relationship after dancing around the issue for weeks. The flashbacks serve a purpose again, and I think this marks the first time we've seen any of Diggle's Army time. David Ramsey's does well to convey Diggle's genuine enthusiasm of going on a mission with his little brother, even as Andy's positive change of attitude is obviously a front to throw big brother off the scent of his criminal dealings. Watching Diggle run into gunfire to plant the mine that helped save his fellow soldiers also serves as a nice reminder that Dig was a hero long before he met Oliver Queen.
The other half of "A.W.O.L." involves a mental scrap between Felicity and an apparition of her former goth hacker self. "Arrow" has used this narrative device repeatedly, sometimes with success (Laurel fending off Sara's ghost while fighting Count Vertigo, aka the only good Laurel episode ever), sometimes not so much (Oliver seeing visions of Shado and Slade after Solomon Grundy beat the tar out of him in Season 2).
When you get past groaning over the cliche, Ghost Felicity mostly works here. The scene where the vision is arguing with her and nudges her into a fight with Oliver in the process is especially unsettling to watch, as the viewer is subject to the same car crash of voices that must be bounding around in Felicity's head.
Unfortunately, the pacing here is off as well. Where the Andy-Diggle arc seemed to add an unnecessary beat on the way to its completion, Felicity's inner-panic is undercooked, running to the finish line way too quickly.
Ms. Smoak is recovering from a horrible near-death experience. She may never walk again. I know Felicity is a strong character, and I don't want to see her wallowing in self-pity for the rest of the season, but did we really need her to come to terms with her injuries and insecurities in the space of one episode?
I've never been paralyzed as a result of a supervillain assassination attempt, but I feel like I'd be a mess for more than a 43-minute television episode. The idea of the team having to operate without Felicity (err ... I mean "Overwatch?") while she struggles to get back to her hacker elite status seems like an engaging plot line. Especially because the rational catharsis there is to have her finally break through when Darhk has the capes on the ropes.
"A.W.O.L." is another fun episode, and any "Arrow" chapter that allows Diggle to play protagonist is going to earn praise from most corners of the Arrow fan base. I just wish they'd stuck the landing on both John and Felicity's arcs. There was a lot more emotional ore to mine there, but now we've got to leave it behind.
Left in the quiver:
"Oracle's taken" -- Awww, "Arrow!" You're so cute when you're self-aware!
No one actually thinks Amanda Waller is dead, right? I mean, she's Amanda Waller. She's a better version of Nick Fury (non-Sam L. version). Maybe they killed her off so she can come back as CCH Pounder (who voiced her in the Justice League cartoons and is the actual honest-to-goodness real-life incarnation of Amanda Waller).
So the flashbacks have united Baron Reiter (whose name I may or may not have purposefully spelled wrong last week) and Andy Diggle. Does this mean Oliver and Andy may have crossed paths before? Damn it flashbacks, you pulled me back in! I've been enjoying trashing you all season.
Any episode with minimal Laurel dialogue is a good episode.
You know, while the Andy climax didn't hit as hard as it should have, I do like the fact that Diggle still paused about letting him back into his life even after he helped big brother save the day. Andy's hesitance to reunite with his wife and daughter is also a nice save in the end ... there is still healing to be done here and there should be.
All these positive Diggle family vibes, however, make me fear he's the one in the pinebox in those flash forwards. My money is still on Thea (and was never on Felicity) but Diggle has emerged as a Darhk horse candidate (See what I did there ... what? I'm fired? You can't fire me, I quit!)
Spartan and Overwatch sound like superhero code names made up by little kids. And I kind of hate them.