Last year, Arrow brought us to its mid-season finale with what had felt like a very conventional plot-twist - that being, that Damian Darhk would launch an attack on Oliver and Felicity only moments after Oliver had proposed to her, and that the attack would leave Felicity seriously wounded. There's absolutely nothing wrong with following along with familiar tropes, of course - it's just that the more cynical members of the audience (like me, I suppose) are going to take some measure of delight in pointing out that they saw it coming.
The final shot of the episode (despite seeming to be clearly sign-posted the very moment that Oliver had got down on one knee) had still been a very effective one, though - with Oliver holding Felicity in his arms, and her own fate seeming uncertain. And, now, as Arrow makes its return, we have a direct continuation of that development. Felicity is in hospital, and Oliver is set on revenge - taking to the streets in a desperate effort to finally track down Damian Darhk.
But, before we get to that, though, the episode opens with a return to the scene which ended the season's first episode, in which we suddenly jumped forward in time six months to find Oliver standing over an unidentified grave. Returning to this moment as the episode opens (now only four months into the future, we are told), it is fairly clear that the show is allowing itself a moment of deliberate misdirection, as it attempts to suggest the possibility that Felicity had passed away - though, in anything, the attempt is simply too blatant to be entirely convincing. The episode, itself, even goes on to quickly refute the possibility, with the clear indication that, while she might still be in need of surgery, Felicity's condition seems to be relatively stable.
Oliver's efforts to track down Darhk also take an unexpected turn when Oliver discovers that he isn't the only one who is after him. Lonnie Machin (Alexander Calvert), the assassin previously employed by Darhk, has also returned - and, he is set on taking his own violent revenge against the man who had previously betrayed him. Now a chaos-worshipping mad-man with a habit of painting the 'anarchy' symbol on every available surface, Machin is still clearly in the process of becoming the show's own take on the villainous figure 'Anarky' - though, it still remains to be seen whether he will ultimately evolve into something that, in any way, resembles the comic-book character he is based on.
Machin's role in this episode was, essentially, merely to serve as something of a distraction for Oliver - an obstacle in his own efforts to track down Darhk. The issue with his inclusion here, though, is that he quickly came to feel the same way to the audience (or, at least, he did to me). Because of the episode's decision to focus on Lonnie Machin, the inevitable confrontation between Oliver and Damian Darhk that the audience had been waiting for since the cliff-hanger ending of the previous episode, last year, was pushed to the side - and, when Darhk did finally make an appearance, it felt more like an afterthought. Also, I have to admit that I wasn't entirely convinced by Alexander Calvert's efforts at playing such a dangerously unhinged character.
It wasn't all bad, though. The idea that he would be grateful to Thea for setting him on fire in their previous encounter (believing that she had helped 'set him free') was certainly a disturbing little twist - and, his clear fixation on her gave their scenes together a very uncomfortable edge. And, he remains just as formidable a physical challenge for our heroes as he way in his previous appearance - with the character's martial arts abilities serving to provide some moments of entertaining action.
There were other fascinating elements to be found in this episode, too, of course. Diggle's efforts to get through to his brother, Andy (Eugene Byrd), continue to be a source of frustration for him - to the extent that he, too, ultimately finds himself pushed toward extreme measures in his efforts to get some information about Darhk. It was also just as interesting to see Diggle, ultimately, able to move passed this moment of anger and attempt to reach out to Andy as a brother - even if Andy being partially won over by this display of 'brotherly love' was not entirely convincing, especially coming so soon after being severely beaten by his older brother.
The flash-back story-line, for this episode, also took things in an interesting new direction - as Baron Reiter (Jimmy Akingbola) discovers, first, that Oliver had been lying to him and, second, that Oliver seemed to have gained some connection to whatever magic there was on the island, thanks to his encounter with John Constantine earlier in the season. And, as the episode ends, we are left with Oliver as a prisoner of Baron Reiter, willing to cooperate on the condition that Taiana (Elysia Rotaru), the woman that Oliver has been trying to protect (and, whose brother he had killed earlier in the season) was not harmed. There is still no way knowing how, or even if, this story is going to intersect with Oliver's 'present day' conflict with Damian Darhk - but, at least it is proving to be an interesting enough plot-line in its own right, for the moment.
Also, the suggestion that Felicity could be left paralysed by her injuries is something that should be particularly interesting to fans of DC's comic-books, in particular. It does, after all, seem to clearly indicate the possibility that she could evolve into the show's own version of 'Oracle' - the identity previously taken by Barbara Gordon, in the comics, after she was shot and left paralysed by the Joker. Some DC purists might take issue with this development, of course (since Felicity, clearly, isn't Barbara Gordon) - but, if this is the direction that they do intend to go with the character, here, than I think I'm alright with it.
Thea's sub-plot in this episode, concerning her continued issues with Lazarus Pit inspired blood-lust and her attempts to pursue a healthy romantic relationship with Oliver's political adviser, Alex Davis (Parker Young), were something of a weaker element to the series, unfortunately. The whole 'Lazarus Pit' sub-plot is simply too similar to what we had, previously, with Roy Harper and the Mirakuru serum. And, Alex simply hasn't been given enough screen-time to make much of an impression on the audience. Whatever the long-term plans are for him as a character, and his relationship with Thea, I do hope that the series manages to find some time to flesh him out a bit more before we get there.
In the end, while this episode wasn't quite what I was expecting from the return of Arrow, there was still plenty to enjoy, here. It is really just a shame that the entire basis of the episode seemed to centre around deliberately delaying the next big confrontation between Oliver Queen and Damian Darhk. Also, while Anarky does have the potential to develop into the fascinating and complex villainous figure that the series' creators clearly want him to be, he still has a fair way to go before he gets to that point.