Let’s begin by giving credit to David Ramsey. In the midst of an all-time insane Arrow episode—Damien Dahrk going on the warpath! Oliver and Felicity meeting an immortal shaman! Thea getting sent to The Twilight Zone!—Ramsey manages to refocus our attention on what actually happened to John Diggle. The man, for just about the most understandable possible reasons, just killed his brother in something very close to cold blood. Andy left him no alternatives, making it clear John and his family would never be safe so long as Andy and H.I.V.E. were at large, and Andy did all he could to goad his brother into pulling that trigger. But still, there probably isn’t any coming back from this, at least not entirely. What Ramsey conveys in the moment after Lyla finds him is the full weight of his actions, as he recognizes he killed his little brother, the one person he has spent most of his life trying to keep out of harm’s way. Lyla doesn’t doubt for a moment the righteousness of what her husband did, arguing Andy left him no other options. But still, coming just two episodes after Laurel’s death, John has officially found something else to haunt him for the rest of his life. That’s pretty damn devastating, and Ramsey brings the realism in that moment.
I’ve talked in past reviews about how Arrow examines tried-and-true superhero storytelling elements, things like secret identities and no-kill rules. The show mostly doesn’t bother with the former for reasons best left for another discussion, but navigating the latter is trickier, particularly when Oliver spent most of the first season killing every bad guy in sight. Whether the members of Team Arrow are justified in killing comes down in part to which analogy we use to understand them. If Oliver and company are vigilantes in the sense of being a costumed, unofficial extension of the police, then it’s damn hard to argue they have any busy killing, because that stretches the notion of taking the law into their own hands past its breaking point. If, on the other hand, we look at Team Arrow’s fight as something more akin to the war, then we enter a moral gray zone where killing the enemy can be justifiable.
It matters then that Andy explicitly called this a war, and he points out his and John’s most obvious frame of reference for what they do remains Afghanistan. He points out it’s damn hard to understand why John would kill enemy combatant to protect strangers in a foreign land but he wouldn’t kill far more nefarious forces who have sworn to murder his wife and child. In that moment, this isn’t about a hero killing a villain. It isn’t even really about a man killing his brother, given Andy rejects that relationship so completely. It’s maybe even a stretch to say this is about a soldier killing the enemy, because the threat is just too personal to view through even that layer of abstraction. As John phrases it, he had to put Andy down. Agonizing over the morality of killing can feel awfully high-minded when faced with a decision such as John’s.
But what’s interesting about “Genesis” is that it also reminds us of why such lofty ideals can still have value. Oliver abandoned his initial Hood persona and became the Arrow, later picking up the Green modifier, because he believed he had to honor Tommy’s memory and make his fight actually stand for something. Now, three years later, his interactions with the immortal Esrin Fortuna drive home the danger in losing sight of those ideals. Yes, Oliver has faced terrible, implacable adversaries like Damien Dahrk and Ra’s al Ghul and Slade Wilson and always always Malcolm Merlyn, and those battles have cost the lives of people Oliver loves. But because he has always reached the conclusion that the only way to defeat these foes was to fight on their own deadly terms, he has repeatedly let the darkness in. He won each of those past battles, but this may well be at the cost of winning the greater war, because there’s no way to really cogently define what it is Oliver fights for when he’s so often lost. The only way for Oliver to become all the Green Arrow can be is to find some way to leave the Island and all it represents behind him, yet damn near every choice he’s made has allowed his experiences there to continue defining him.
These are mostly big-picture ideas, I admit, but “Genesis” deals with much of this by bringing in Esrin, who takes all these nebulous ideas and makes them literal as she explains Oliver’s only chance of repelling Dahrk’s magic is to counter his darkness with light. The show is now multiple weeks into having a character call Oliver out for moping yet again, and once again Oliver makes a semi-plausible argument that his latest round of self-evisceration is deserved, which if nothing else speaks to how overused that character beat has been before now. What’s promising, though, is that Oliver does eventually find the inner strength to repel Dahrk’s magic. I’m guessing a decent-sized sector of Arrow fans won’t be thrilled that Oliver so directly connects that strength to thoughts of Felicity, but then he does say she’s just one of many voices of loved ones he called upon to stand up to Dahrk. That too is a nice note for the show to play, giving Oliver a solo victory over Dahrk while still making it clear he only prevailed because of the strength he draws from his loved ones. It’s still early days for this particular direction, but there’s a sense here the show has zeroed in on a legitimate way to build up a purposefully lighter version of the Green Arrow, even if this still all leads to Oliver killing Dahrk. Which, fair enough, really.
All in all, “Genesis” is a solid episode, propelling us nicely toward the endgame while dropping the flashbacks entirely, which is an always welcome decision at this point. Looking back, neither the death of Andy nor the defeat of Dahrk feels like it has the weight it ought to, which is probably a sign that the show remains too convoluted and too overwhelmed by its own tangled plot threads for the latest big twists to register as they should. The best road ahead then is likely to find some way, even within the context of the show’s reliably dark yearly endgame, for Arrow to be as fun as possible. Making Oliver recognize the value of his friends and his ideals is a nice start. Now let’s just see where all this goes from here.
- So, yeah, that Thea plot. I mean, I liked it fine, because I’m openly stumping for Thea to become the protagonist at this point, so I have no issue with her getting as much screentime as the show can spare. But that may be the strangest subplot in the show’s history, just in terms of what it’s set up previously as possible in the show’s reality. That wouldn’t have felt out of place in an episode of, say, Star Trek (or, hell, that one Rick And Morty episode), but we’re officially going into really weird terrain with this season. Not that I mind.
- Again, no flashbacks! Despite the fact that we get some really heavy foreshadowing about bad things about to go down in the past, making this one of the few instances where I could have actually stood to see some glimpses of the past. Actually, nah, no flashbacks is great.