Oliver Queen is dead. So what becomes of the friends and family he left behind in Starling City? How do they cope with his absence?
Let’s bitch it out…
In the wake of Oliver’s (Stephen Amell) duel with Ra’s al Ghul (Matt Nable) in the mid-season finale, the rest of Team Arrow is struggling to keep the streets crime-free until his return. The lingering problem – the thought on everyone’s minds – is what happens if Oliver didn’t survive? It’s been three days without word from him and everyone is starting to worry.
Since we know that Oliver is lying at the bottom of a quarry, we’re essentially watching the team work through various stages of grief. In this way it’s on par with the episodes following Sara and Moira’s deaths than the usual villain of the week episode, only without Oliver around to give pretty boy cry-face.
Named by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book On Death and Dying, the stages of grief document the grieving process for individuals including denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Initially Diggle (David Ramsey), Roy (Colton Haynes) and Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) all make excuses for Oliver’s extended absence, waiting with bated breath for Felicity’s sensors to pick him up. This includes dismissing silver-tongued Malcolm Merlyn’s (John Barrowman) proclamations that their leader has fallen. After the Dark Archer returns a blood sample from Ra’s sword and the test confirms that it is his blood, however, the team makes their way through Kübler-Ross’ stages.
Felicity copes the least well which makes sense given her romantic entanglements with Oliver. She takes her grief out on on Ray (Brandon Routh) in an impassioned and mildly angry plea. Her reaction seems fair to me: the man she may come to love has an enthusiasm for vigilantism that seems destined to send him down the same path as the man she loved and lost. It’s only after Ray shuts her down and Diggle and Roy confront her about allowing Brick (Vinnie Jones) to escape that we see Felicity move into bargaining. She regrets not standing up to Oliver and preventing his departure. It is only when she accepts that he is truly gone that she succumbs to her grief, leaving her friends and the Arrow cave behind (Side Note: It was a little funny that she also turned out the lights on her way out. I can just imagine Diggle & Roy yelling: “Umm…we’re still down here!”) To me Felicity’s reaction feels the most expressive and heartfelt, helped by the fact that Rickards gives good cry.
Diggle and Roy’s reactions are less showy, but they’re clearly struggling for direction. Late in the episode Diggle admits to Laurel (Katie Cassidy) that he still regards himself as Oliver’s bodyguard and it is one of the most genuine pieces of dialogue the writers have given him. Although Diggle and Oliver have had their disagreements, Diggle always felt more like a protector than a partner to me. The line also highlights how much the series gains from putting Oliver on the backburner; without Oliver to pull attention, Diggle and Roy finally get the screen time they’ve been missing this season. Dedicating more time to their stories also allows them to play more than just back-up. They become characters in their own right again. Even the potentially cliche moment when Thea (Willa Holland) discovers Roy drinking by himself in the store room at Verdant works, but it is because we’ve actually spent a significant amount of time watching Roy grapple with the uncertainty of pressing forward without Oliver.
One person that’s not struggling is Laurel. She reminds a distraught Felicity that she’s seen Oliver rise from the grave before, something they had argued before, but with less conviction than someone who has actually lived through a death and a rebirth. And when faced with the reality that eight months of vigilante work is about to go down the drains thanks to Brick’s evidence locker raid, Laurel finally squeezes into her black leather destiny to become the new Black Canary. Despite fretting about Laurel’s ascension to take her sister’s place and the suggestion that episodes 10-12 represent her Black Canary arc, I have to say that the integration of Laurel as a supporting member of the crime fighting team here actually feels okay.
We’ll see how the next episode plays out (it is more Laurel/Black Canary heavy), but considering this mid-season premiere on its own merits, ‘Left Behind’ is an appropriately emotional and well-structured Oliver Queen-less episode.
- Of course Oliver isn’t completely gone and, as anticipated by everyone, he is brought back to life by the end of the episode. Still, recovering from a mortal wound like that won’t be easy, which means we can expect the next few episodes to keep him and the team separated and struggling.
- I like how Diggle started the episode off wearing Oliver’s Arrow outfit, but abandoned the idea after the first battle. It visually reinforces that Arrow, the series, can’t simply replace the man in the hood with a different actor. It also sets up a few amusing gags regarding the tightness of the leather (see below).
- Despite obtaining a reprieve on his death warrant, Malcolm Merlyn still wants to escape from Starling City with Thea. My question is how much longer can Thea possibly stay in the dark? It’s getting silly that she still doesn’t know that A) Malcolm is super bad B) Oliver is the Arrow and C) no one likes her. Oops…that last one just slipped out.
- Vinnie Jones is simultaneously perfectly cast and also an incredibly boring choice. Physically he cuts an intimidating figure, but as an actor I find him immensely dull. The whole gun vs punching exercise he pulls with his underling (and later Diggle) is full of blah.
- Cool shot of the episode: Roy running through the pipe as Brick’s hired muscle shoots at him from all sides. Ridiculous, but exciting!
- Initially I thought that the flashbacks were included solely to ensure that the episode isn’t entirely devoid of Stephen Amell goodness, but in light of the final scene, it is clear that the whole Hong Kong storyline has been a set-up. We’re not actually watching what Oliver got up to in in Waller’s (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) service; we’re getting the context for why Tatsu (Rila Fukushima) and Maseo (Karl Yune) risk everything in the present to bring Ollie back to life. Tonight’s infiltration of a Hong Kong military lab on Waller’s orders isn’t about securing half of the bio weapon. In actuality, the mission is a precursor to Oliver’s plan to recover an abducted Tatsu. The fact that it includes a lot of action and intrigue in an emotion heavy episode probably doesn’t hurt, either.
- Diggle (firing an arrow and missing): “This suit is too tight.”
- Felicity (when Malcolm shows up in the lab a second time): “We really need to change the locks” Um, ya think? Everyone and their damn dog walks into the damn place?!
- Malcolm (after Thea states that she could have killed him with a letter opener): “It’s cute that you think so.”
Your turn: how did Arrow sans Ollie do? Are you even remotely surprised that Oliver has come back to life? Do the Hong Kong flashbacks feel more worthwhile now? Whose reaction to Oliver’s death touched you most: Felicity, Roy or Diggle? Are you sold on Laurel as Black Canary now that we’ve seen her (briefly) in action? Sound off below.
Arrow airs Wednesdays at 8pm EST on The CW. Here’s a preview of next week’s Laurel-centric episode: