NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of “Arrow”, including a major character death, are present in this review
After not getting off to that great a start in 2016 with “Blood Debts” last week, Arrow delivered a far better episode in “A.W.O.L.” this week, thanks largely to a renewed focus on the Diggle brothers’ dynamic. In fact, this episode was so Diggle-centric, that we didn’t even get any flashbacks to Lian Yu this week. Instead, the flashbacks were taken over by peeks into the military career of Diggle and his brother, namely in their shared missions together in Afghanistan, circa 2005.
Even with the absence of Lian Yu however, this episode started to finally better weave together this season’s flashbacks with the present-day events, as we’re introduced to an elite military organization called Shadowspire, whom DC Comics fans will recognize as the underlings of Baron Blitzkrieg, the comic book identity of Reiter, from this season’s Lian Yu flashbacks. Sure enough, Reiter is revealed to be the mastermind behind Shadowspire towards the end of the episode, with some interesting interpretation being offered, in terms of whether Shadowspire will ultimately support Damien Darhk’s world-changing operation, or ultimately stand against it. I suppose it comes down to what Reiter and his organization are hunting for, which the show is no doubt saving until later this season.
Things kick off when Shadowspire, before Team Arrow identifies them, starts kidnapping, torturing and killing A.R.G.U.S. agents, which Diggle and Lyla get caught up in around the very start of the episode, after one of them tries to tip off Lyla that something is wrong at A.R.G.U.S. Diggle and Lyla commission Team Arrow’s help to track down the missing agent, only to later learn that he’s been killed, and two other agents are missing, and presumed dead. When Lyla starts pressing Amanda Waller about what’s going on, Waller slips Lyla a flash drive with a mysterious symbol on it, but is otherwise mum on who the bad guys are.
It’s Andy Diggle that confirms that the flash drive is related to Shadowspire, an organization that he and his older brother were affiliated with during their time in the military, albeit unknowingly. It was very cool to see the secret drug trafficking that Andy was doing actually be the same drug trade that Reiter is pushing as a cover for his mission on Lian Yu in the flashbacks, and it was equally neat to see Andy possibly be the one to point Reiter and Shadowspire to Lian Yu in the first place, giving Oliver and Diggle an interesting tie together by fate, even years before Oliver returned to Star(ling) City as a hooded vigilante. This finally makes Andy more than an uncooperative, imprisoned thug, and starts to show a lot of promise as to how he could end up being a fantastic part of Arrow, should he stay on past this season. The flashbacks also worked very well to this effect, beautifully spotlighting the depth of the complicated bond between the two Diggle men.
Another awesome twist was had when Oliver, Laurel and Thea attempt to track a stolen shipment of rail guns, believing that Shadowspire is going to do something bad with them, though Andy cautions that this is a ruse. Sure enough, the rail guns were a distraction for Team Arrow and A.R.G.U.S.’ defenses, leaving A.R.G.U.S. as the true endgame, with Shadowspire attacking the A.R.G.U.S. complex, right as Andy is transferred there by Diggle and Lyla to be debriefed by Amanda Waller! Boy, secret agencies in comic book worlds really seem to have all the bad luck with being compromised, don’t they?
With a tense situation unfolding, Diggle is forced to trust his brother as he desperately tries to get the upper hand on Shadowspire, without the direct aid of Oliver, Laurel or Thea right away. Meanwhile, Amanda Waller lets Shadowspire’s officer kill off her agents continually, until Lyla finally chimes in by saying that Waller will let every agent die in the room, before she gives up the crucial data that Shadowspire is after. This leads to the biggest shock of the episode, as the officer turns and shoots Amanda Waller right in the head! Yes, believe it or not, Amanda Waller, one of the biggest government characters in DC lore, is now apparently dead in The CW’s DC Television Universe. Talk about a bold move!
Unfortunately though, even if Waller’s death was bold and shocking, it was also the one point of the episode that felt frustrating, and frankly, pretty unnecessary. It’s hard not to get the sense that Waller wasn’t killed off because it actually benefited the story of Arrow, but because Warner Bros.’ movie division was probably getting pissy about Waller’s presence on the show, and wanted her gone, since WB has some weird issue with having multiple live-action incarnations of DC characters at the same time. Yes, that’s dumb, since they now have the television version of The Flash in this same shared TV universe, and are soon introducing a completely separate movie version of The Flash for the DC Extended Universe (plus Superman is sort of portrayed at times on CBS’ Supergirl), but that’s the movie studio’s strict preference, and it’s been their stance since Smallville was airing during the previous decade, and couldn’t incorporate Batman for the same reason. Since Amanda Waller is playing a big part in this August’s Suicide Squad movie, that’s probably the real reason why she’s bought the farm on Arrow, and that’s pretty annoying, especially since the Suicide Squad is also no doubt being permanently retired on Arrow because of this silly studio mandate with DC’s characters.
Even so, seeing Andy come through for Diggle, and Team Arrow as a unit come through even with the struggles of Felicity, who is trying to get back in the game to the best of her ability, was quite satisfying, leading to Shadowspire’s defeat. Felicity’s anguish with being newly disabled also took up a pretty good chunk of the episode, particularly when her medication causes her to hallucinate her younger, Sandman’s Death-inspired self, which led to a pretty interesting dramatic journey for Felicity’s character, even if also a somewhat rushed one. By the end of the episode, Felicity had sorted out her identity crisis completely, and it might have had more impact, had this conflict lasted beyond this episode. Nonetheless though, it’s good to have Felicity back in the saddle already.
I must say too that Felicity’s new fan-suggested code name, “Overwatch” is pretty cool as well, creating a concerted effort to separate her from Batman personality, Oracle, despite their many similarities. Oliver even directly mentions that he originally considered the code name of, “Oracle” for Felicity, but lamented that it was taken, further muddying the waters as to whether or not Batman and his supporting cast actually do exist off-screen in the DC Television Universe or not at this point. Maybe Oliver also just saw that name in the same unidentified comic book that Cisco was reading during that one episode of The Flash that inspired him to create a ‘Flash Signal’. Who knows?
Still, “A.W.O.L.” gave Arrow its first standout episode for 2016, and made up for the somewhat messy midseason premiere last week. The Diggle material was great stuff, and the fact that the show is finally connecting the flashback stories with the present-day stories is appreciated, especially when it will no doubt also add an interesting new dimension to the Damien Darhk conflict. Killing off Amanda Waller feels heavy-handed and unnecessary, but I suppose that these things can’t be helped, since they no doubt come from on high. Oh well. Maybe, if we’re lucky, Diggle will still eventually get his chance to become a Green Lantern someday. Here’s hoping.
- Superb past and present storylines for the Diggle brothers
- Felicity finding her place on the team again
- The flashbacks finally have bearing on the present-day events
- Amanda Waller's death is annoying and unnecessary