Looking back on it, this season could have used so much more Anarky than we ended up getting. Tonight’s “Lost In The Flood” provides the perfect setup for next week’s finale, as it allows Team Arrow to notch at least a partial victory while handling Damien Dahrk a defeat that doesn’t knock him out permanently—allowing for the fact that he, you know, just swore to burn the planet in nuclear fire. The presence of Lonnie Machin scrambles the otherwise predictable conflicts, maneuvering Malcolm and even Ruvé Darhk into uneasy or de facto alliances with Team Arrow. Dahrk’s Ark—which I realize had an actual name, but I’m just going to call the Ahrk and be done with it—is too heavily guarded and too full of, if not exactly innocents, then at least people who don’t deserve an arrow through the chest for Oliver and Diggle to have any realistic shot of taking it down. Throwing Machin into the mix adds that combustible element that can lead to the Ahrk’s destruction without putting still more blood—and, just as important, still more angst—onto Oliver.

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Maybe this is just a reality of Alexander Calvert’s schedule, but I can’t help but wish the season had had more time to focus on Lonnie, because his relatively brief appearances this year have all indicated he’s a legitimate threat to Damien Dahrk, and his commitment to chaos and carnage is a valuable contrast to Dahrk’s insane dreams of a post-apocalyptic utopia. Given more screentime, Machin could have helped sharpen Dahrk’s viewpoint. This isn’t one of those situations where one villain makes the other look good by comparison—Machin’s sheer competence might be enough to win some fans, but the dude does try to kill a defenseless child and generally obsesses over Thea in the worst ways, so it’s hard to be too charitable toward him. Both Dahrk and Machin are too extreme to support much ambiguity in their motivations, but what their simultaneous presence can do is set up a greater variety of challenges and dynamics for our heroes, and a show this deep into its run should be actively cultivating all opportunities to deviate from its formula.

“Lost In The Flood” is a really good episode, even if it’s possible to imagine the story working even better if preceding episodes had built more directly to the conflicts explored here. Indeed, the episode makes the climax of last week’s “Monument Point” look not just rushed, as it already appeared last week, but damn near superfluous. Take away Curtis’ excited ramblings about Havenrock and that one newscast and you’d never know a nuke dropped last week, and it’s not as though the powered-up Dahrk does anything this episode that the previous, only moderately powerful version of him couldn’t plausibly do. And, as is too often the case, there’s some wonky storytelling going on here: I believe the reason Dahrk doesn’t intercede on Ruvé and their daughter’s behalf is because he can’t contact the Ahrk and thus doesn’t know what’s going on, but that’s not really made clear. But these are mostly problems on the margins. Tonight’s episode sets itself the task of challenging all its heroes before the big finale, and it manages to give them all moments to shine while finding room for smaller-scale character arcs for Felicity and Thea. Hell, Oliver even gets a moment to reflect on the ways Dahrk has offered people hope in ways he could not. Again, would have been nice if Arrow had more clearly built up that idea over multiple episodes, but I’m not going to argue too hard with an instance of Oliver doubting himself without dissolving into self-flagellation.

Similarly successful is the story with Felicity and her parents. We could spend a whole lot of time ruminating on just how Arrow so spectacularly transformed Felicity from fan favorite to target of ire, but the short version is probably just this: With some stories, the payoff is the anticipation, not the payoff itself. The romance between Oliver and Felicity was fun as a theoretical because it felt like a happy accident, an inadvertent defiance of the comics-mandated pairing. Fans who wanted to see it could enjoy the feints and teases, and fans who were ambivalent or against it could at least enjoy Felicity’s one-liners from the sidelines with relatively little distraction. Actually putting Oliver and Felicity together made all that we previously ephemeral and up to viewer interpretation into concrete terms, and there were only a handful of good ways to write an ongoing romance between the two—and Arrow didn’t go with any of them, instead having Oliver and especially Felicity get increasingly insular in a way that was never going to be much fun for anyone.

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So, if you’re just completely burned out on Felicity at this point, I get it. Hell, if you’re pretty much burned out on Arrow at this point, I get that too, though I’ll argue to my last breath that Neal McDonough’s scenery-chewing has been worth the price of admission all on its own. Still, credit where it’s due: Tonight’s Felicity subplot, with her finally witnessing and dealing with the confrontation between her long-estranged parents, is some solid storytelling. As Curtis points out, we’re essentially seeing the two sides of Felicity face off, and “Lost In The Flood” is smart enough not to let the family drama trump the more immediate concerns of saving the world; Donna even tells Felicity that they can talk about things later, once nuclear annihilation has been averted. Donna and Noah’s story is a bit of a comedy subplot, as all Donna stories kind of are, but Arrow respects their history enough not to suggest some pat reconciliation. Felicity can connect with both her parents, and each can have a moment where he or she sees some new complexity in the other, but mostly the damage has been done. And, again, outside Curtis’ attempt to connect Donna and Noah’s story to Felicity and Oliver’s, the whole thing is allowed to exist separately from the episode’s main story, which is where Felicity works best at this point.

With this review, I’m basically trying to clear the deck in anticipation of the big finale, not unlike what tonight’s episode attempts to do. We’ve got some solid setup for now or for later—both Noah and Machin remain at large, and they could return next week or next season with equal effectiveness—and “Lost In The Flood” does a nice job of exploring the twisted vision of Damien Dahrk before revealing that, nah, he’s just an omnicidal maniac. Whether the discovery of his daughter’s survival thanks to Team Arrow will make any difference in his plans remains to be seen, though I don’t like the odds. Tonight’s episode isn’t revelatory, and it doesn’t really do anything the show hasn’t done before. But everything it chooses to do, it does well, and any flaws are mostly the result of larger flaws in the season’s storytelling. We’re one week away from being able to judge this season as a finished product, and “Lost In The Flood” has me cautiously optimistic for next Wednesday.

Stray observations

  • Does anyone get anything out of the flashbacks? I don’t just mean in the comments, I mean anyone on the planet. I’ll still say these are better than last season’s, in that they at least relate to the main plot in an obvious way, but that’s just it: There’s not a single thing going on there that we can’t already predict.
  • Has Malcolm’s haircut been looking that bad for awhile, or is that new? Because I’m not digging the Barrowman’s look tonight.
  • R.I.P. Ruvé Dahrk. Honestly, by Star City standards, she was one of the better mayors.
  • I was vaguely aware of this because the penultimate episode of season one was called “Darkness On The Edge Of Town,” but as a New Jerseyan I feel honor-bound to point out the second-to-last episode of every season is named after a Bruce Springsteen song. No idea what the thinking is behind that particular tradition, but I’m not complaining. Here’s the episode’s 1973 namesake.

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