My goodness, that was a fun episode of Arrow. On some level, what we get tonight follows logically from a point I made when assessing Felicity Smoak in the review of last week’s misfiring “Broken Hearts.” Felicity first got over with the audience as an endearingly awkward one-liner machine, and it’s been the attempts to reconfigure her first as the fandom-demanded love interest and then as the show’s romantic co-lead that have seen diminishing returns. So then, tonight’s “Beacon Of Hope” just up and gets itself the closest thing the show has to the Felicity Smoak of the first and second season, as a cold-ridden Curtis Holt stumbles his way into the Arrow Cave and becomes what the team actually dubs “a taller, more dude-like version of Felicity.” And that’s exactly what he is! And damn it, as obvious, even shameless a gambit as this is, it totally works, because Echo Kellum is every bit as winning in the role as Emily Bett Rickards has been. Honestly, the presence of any new team member is likely to give the show a jolt of energy, as we’ve seen earlier this season from the temporary additions of Vixen and John Constantine. But letting Curtis Holt do his best Felicity impersonation is both novel and nostalgic, and the result is an episode that’s considerably more fun than the typical Arrow episode.
In fairness, everyone involved in “Beacon Of Hope” has apparently decided to cut loose tonight. The Arrowverse shows generally eschew—or, being brutally honest, maybe just aren’t well-written enough to pull off consistently—a hallmark of genre shows like Farscape and the Joss Whedon oeuvre, which is to lampshade the inherent ridiculousness of the show’s premise by having characters comment on the latest bit of craziness in their lives. Tonight, however, Arrow goes all in with that particular technique, starting with the team’s amazement that Oliver Queen is familiar with Harry Potter. The Lances are in particularly fine form here, with Quentin repeatedly noting that, yes, this is his life now. His role here would be fun enough if the show just told Paul Blackthorne to stand in the corner and toss off some snarky one-liners, but there’s actually a little bit of emotional progression going on here—not an arc, by any stretch, but a sense that Lance still exists as a character outside the needs of Arrow’s comic relief. He actually engages with the situation enough to ask, much as he can’t believe he’s suggesting it, whether some sort of digital honey could deal with the robotic bees, and he still has time at the end to give Curtis a bit of good-natured guff for screaming when one of the bees attacks.
This is also a hell of a good Laurel episode, though I’ll go ahead and say right now the tones she and Oliver adopt when discussing his breakup with Felicity sure sound just tender enough that the show is starting to tease an eventual reconciliation for the comics-mandated couple. In the meantime, though, Laurel is in her best possible role as all-purpose sidekick, offering Oliver just the right mix of reassuring advice and brutal honesty about how he screwed things up. (And, as we’ve discussed in previous reviews, you can certainly still argue whether the show actually committed to depicting him screwing things up, for fear of making its hero look like too much of an ass. But that appears to be the show’s take going forward, and Laurel explains the argument well.) She also has a terrific little interaction with Curtis when she uses her Canary Cry to save Oliver, dismissing Curtis’ geeking out with a simple, “Yeah, we get it, it’s badass.” Katie Cassidy has taken enough criticism for her work—at least some of it deserved!—that I still think it’s only fair to single out individual lines that aren’t just good, but great, and that’s one of them. I’m not sure Arrow still has any real idea how to sustain Laurel’s character over the course of an entire episode-long storyline, but she works like gangbusters in these targeted spots.
As for Felicity’s second round with young Rachael Harris—sorry, sorry, Brie Larvan, the Bug-Eyed Bandit—the episode makes another fun, clever move in teaming up Felicity, Donna, and Thea. Getting Felicity away from Oliver for an episode is much needed, as it gives her some space to rediscover what makes her worthwhile—not just as a person in-universe, but as a character in the audience’s eyes. We’re probably at the point where Felicity and Oliver’s breakup is never going to work well on its own terms, and I’m not sure there’s anything the show can really do to unring that particular bell—even getting them back together wouldn’t undo how contrived and frustrating the split was. But if you can get past that, Arrow appears to have some renewed sense of Felicity, as she spends this episode redefining what her life’s purpose ought to be. There’s some nice insight on display in the final scene, as Thea reflects on how Felicity must have missed the rush of taking on the bad guys, only for Felicity to say quite truthfully it was never about that for her. She always just wanted to help people—both in the abstract, general sense and in the more specific sense of assisting Oliver and Diggle in their crusade—and everything that has happened since has just left her feeling removed from that initial motivation.
I’d say that maybe Palmer Tech can help her rediscover that purpose, but come on. Even if you didn’t watch the promo for next week’s episode, we know it’s late enough in the season that any apparent good times can’t last long. Credit to “Beacon Of Hope” that it does a good job of getting back to what makes Arrow not just good, but fun. I could happily watch a whole run of episodes with a Team Arrow that subs Curtis in for Felicity and gets about the business of fighting crime, especially if there’s more of the improvisational problem-solving we saw with Curtis’ use of the Canary Cry. And maybe we’ll get that in some form, but what appears more likely is that “Beacon Of Hope” is just that, a brief flash of reassuring light before the darkness once again descends. I can’t hide all my disappointment that there isn’t more time for this to be the new status quo, but the mere fact that I wanted to see more episodes just like this suggests that this episode is just what the doctor ordered.
- So, I couldn’t quite find a natural way to get into this in the main body of the review proper—which I suppose is why we instituted a Stray Observations section in the first place—but Neal McDonough is just on next-level form in this episode. His every interaction with his fellow prisoners is comic gold. At this point, with Damien’s powers stripped away, he basically just is Robert Quarles, give or take the disturbing sex stuff. (I mean, we haven’t been given any indication of that, but who’s going to bet Damien isn’t into disturbing sex stuff?) Anyway, his whole bit of business about how the two convicts were killed before he could go through his big monologue was gold, as was his obvious question to his eventual savior: “I’m sorry, I’ve just got to know, did you sew that in yourself, or do you have some kind of lip-sewing guy?”
- I also like the idea that the rest of H.I.V.E. has abandoned Damien at the first opportunity. Even he would have to admit that betrayal was well-earned. The end of the episode appears to be teasing an intra-villain fight between a Malcolm-led H.I.V.E. and whatever power base Damien is building up in prison, which could be hugely fun.
- “From now on, I’m wearing flats. These assaults are weekly.” I don’t think I always felt this way, but Donna is the best.
- “Their bee-havior can be a-pollen sometimes.” Okay, in fairness, I think only the first of those puns was actually said in the episode, but I’m happy to pick up any balls Arrow might drop.