If you have not seen this episode yet and do not wish to be spoiled, do not continue reading!
Diggle is drafted into A.R.G.U.S. to stop a terrorist, Qadir, who Diggle once saved during his stay in Afghanistan. Under the command of Waller, Diggle becomes the field leader for Lyla, Deadshot, Bronze Tiger and Shrapnel, who must work together to infiltrate his home and obtain a deadly neurotoxin. Shrapnel tries to escape in the process, prompting Waller to enable the kill switch in his brain, which is how A.R.G.U.S. is keeping them in check. During the mission, they discover that the neurotoxin is too large to be transported—and in fact, Waller was aware of this and kept this from the team. Instead, the plan was to have Deadshot be a GPS tracker for a drone missile, which would kill him and everyone inside under the guise of a chemical explosion. Diggle and Lyla disagree with the methods and rescue Deadshot and all the people, redirecting the drone missile and exposing Qadir as a terrorist. Waller is unhappy with the results and notes she won’t be letting Diggle in on a mission in the future, though he has no interest in working with them again. However, he and Lyla realize their feelings for one another and decide to rekindle their relationship. In Starling, Oliver goes to the Russian mafia to try to track down Slade, only for Slade to be one step ahead of him every time. Frightened, he at first tells Sara to stay away from him, until Laurel reminds them both that they care for one another. Oliver accepts that Slade could kill his team at any time, but the most important thing is to keep fighting back as much as possible. He then goes to see Amanda Waller, and we discover that they are old enemies, and she has been tracking a new mercenary named Deathstroke.
Before Felicity came into the fray, John Diggle was the original ensemble darkhose. Whether Arrow was being criticized or lauded, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who disliked Oliver’s bodyguard-turned-confidante. Between David Ramsey’s charm and Diggle’s down-to-Earth morality complimenting Oliver’s constant search for that moral center, he was the one part of the show that wouldn’t disappoint.
Then the world of Arrow grew, and while that’s yielded some wonderful results, Diggle’s prominence (and relevance) has steadily declined. Aside from popping in for bits of wisdom and some funny one-liners, David Ramsey simply hasn’t had much to do this season. Diggle got a bit pushed out of focus for being Oliver’s moral center when Felicity came in—for good reason, since Felicity is the most innocent of the bunch. Her outlook is often naive, but that kind of perspective is necessary when surrounded by cynical veterans of tragedy. Diggle was since been relegated to muscle, backup, and covert operations, but with both Canary and Roy on the team now, he’s even more superfluous. What does John Diggle have to offer outside of being just another body?
“Suicide Squad” doesn’t straight-up answer the question, though it leaves the thought out for Diggle to ponder. But it does posit why Diggle is around, mostly by throwing him neck-deep into the morally gray stuff he railed against last year. Felicity may be the pure moral center of Team Arrow, but as we see from his flashbacks and reactions this week, Diggle is a different kind of heart; he’s seen the horrors on both ends of the spectrum. His perspective is one of experience and realism, that the ends can justify the means, but only if those means don’t cross a line. Felicity can keep the team in-line by reminding them of the people out there without scars, while Diggle shows them how to make those scars worth it.
Frustrating as it is that it took 3/4 of the season to get here, Arrow has always been good at playing the long game, and an episode like “Suicide Squad” works best because we’ve had to wait so long to get to it. It’s not the first Diggle-centric episode of the show, technically, but episodes of his in the past still kept Oliver in the front and center until this season’s “Keep Your Enemies Closer,” which “Suicide Squad” is essentially a sequel to. That episode focused on many of the same “Diggle problems,” but had the trouble of following season 2’s opening Canary arc and thus felt like a distraction. And while that episode had fun with Diggle and Deadshot, it didn’t change his trajectory into the background as the season continued. As such, “Suicide Squad” is the best Diggle-centric episode in terms of overall competency in dealing with Diggle and its relevance to the main plot, even if it’s mostly by default.
But at that, it’s a positively thrilling hour, one that provides as much comic book fun and joy as it does moral panic for Diggle. David Ramsey is perfectly competent throughout the hour, playing an unusually tense and uncertain Diggle who never ceases to question his surroundings. Ramsey probably wouldn’t be strong enough to carry the lead in an ensemble show like this in the long term, but in the context of this individual episode, he’s a standout presence. Ramsey also has very good chemistry with Audrey Marie Anderson as Lyla, and the two progressing from fun booty calls to legitimately rekindling their relationship is very sweet. The two work together as Harbinger and Freelancer nicely, and if Diggle ever needs to be written out, letting him go off on spy missions with Lyla would be a nice alternative to killing him off. In any case, Diggle has a better understanding of the world around him and what he cares about after this episode, and Ramsey plays this little arc just fine.
Diggle’s better understanding is mostly fueled by the “villains,” who ultimately prove to be the most straight-laced characters in the episode. Bronze Tiger follows his orders to a T and never even questions them. Deadshot is willing to die for the mission and his comrades, and is only doing it for the daughter he knows he isn’t good enough for. Even Shrapnel, who disobeys orders and runs away, only does so because his own beliefs and standards conflict with A.R.G.U.S.’s. They’re all out for themselves and are lacking a moral center, sure, but there’s a difference between amoral and immoral. This episode shows that these guys, twisted as they are, at least uphold the obligations they swear to so long as the obligations benefit them. If you pay them enough, they could be “good guys,” at least in the loosest sense of the word. It’s far from being good guys out of a sense of justice like Team Arrow does, but they’re closer to the central team of heroes than A.R.G.U.S. is at this point.
Michael Rowe is the biggest standout of the episode, proving that any misgivings about Deadshot in the past were mostly the fault of the material and circumstances. Rowe tones down much of the hamminess present in “Keep Your Enemies Closer,” and manages to strike a rare balance by pulling some late-arrival sympathy for Deadshot without undercutting his coolness. Explaining Deadshot’s motives and giving him character, as Diggle says, is a much more fulfilling way to close out Diggle’s overarching revenge story than having Diggle enact that revenge. Even better, it leaves Deadshot open to return without betraying either character, and whether or not Deadshot returns as a villain or anti-hero is up in the air. The same can’t quite be said for Michael Jai White and Sean Maher as Bronze Tiger and Shrapnel, respectively, however. Both act more as plot devices than anything else; White isn’t given much more than his usual goon material, and Shrapnel is taken out before Maher can really do anything. But it’s a necessary evil in an otherwise well-structured story.
Cynthia Addai-Robinson as Amanda Waller is still a bit hard to nail down. As Amanda Waller as we know her in the comics, Addai-Robinson is underwhelming, lacking an element of larger intimidation. But this particular version of Waller seems to be going for a different type of intimidation; Waller is clearly young and doesn’t appear physically strong, but her cold roboticness is so off-putting that it’s impossible to find the correct reaction to her. That works wonders in an episode like this, where Waller and A.R.G.U.S. is presented less as omniscient or malevolent and more cold and pragmatic. This is solidified with the totally shocking, but equally fitting reveal that Oliver knew Waller in the past, adding a new thread to the island flashbacks and explaining how A.R.G.U.S. could have guessed the Team Arrow identities so easily. It’s a different side to play to the “ambiguous government group” angle in superhero stories, with this version falling somewhere between ultra-powerful super-group and a relatively average military force.
The one fault the episode has is how hard it tries to solidify that juxtaposition between A.R.G.U.S. and the Suicide Squad. Waller lives on the most ridiculous side of the “ends justify the means” spectrum, sporting a plan so unnecessarily sinister that it doesn’t even make logical sense. Why did they plan to bomb the house on the night so many civilians were there? Why wasn’t covertly sneaking in when Qadir wasn’t home an option? And why not just…give Deadshot a tracking device to put in the room instead of implanting it? It’s all manufactured to be as slimy as possible, but the main concept of the mission is so not a suicide mission that Waller had to overcomplicate it to make it a suicide mission. Watching the episode on first viewing, these things weren’t too bothersome—a testament to the absolute fun the episode is to watch, which it totally is—but it falls apart when you think about it. That aspect doesn’t make Waller seem malevolent so much as kind of silly.
But that itself is a good meta example of the “ends justify the means” question the episode posits; Waller’s machinations are ridiculous, but the result for we viewers is an exciting thrillride, and it certainly gets the point across. That theme, both in and outside of the universe, has been present in the show since day one—from Oliver grappling with what justifies murder throughout the series, to our own “putting up” with the frustrating early days to justify the heights to which show has climbed since. You could say the question of “ends justify the means” is one of the core tenets of the show as a whole, so factoring this so heavily into “Suicide Squad” makes it vital to the mythology rather than a team-up gimmick.
Keeping the Slade story in the the peripherals also works wonders, as many of Diggle’s questions carry over into Oliver’s B-Plot. Stephen Amell does great work as the unhinged Oliver, who faces horribly haunting experiences as Slade toys with him. Slade is definitely a different villain from Malcolm Merlyn just from the psychological torment, which is more frightening for just how little he’s yet to directly do. However, while both Oliver and Diggle have to deal with their perceptions and beliefs shaking them to the core, both find peace and reassurance in the women they love. Like Diggle can stay sane by believing in Lyla, Oliver knows he has a kindred spirit in Sara, who absolutely does not want Oliver to feel the blame if anything happens. That goes for his entire team, too; it’s telling when Felicity, the most vulnerable of Team Arrow, says she’s pretty much accepted there’s no way she’d live if Slade comes after her. If she dies, it won’t be Team Arrow’s fault, and if she’s caught in any crossfire during the final battle, the ends (defeating Slade) would justify those means. It’s morbid, but it’s an impotant perception to have for the oncoming storm. Diggle and Oliver are a bit slower to learn this lesson than Felicity and Sara because of their own stubbornness, but they seem to overcome their learning curves this week in different ways.
So if anything, this dive into the morally gray has prepped Diggle better for what will likely be a bloody showdown with Slade; Oliver himself comments this week that he’ll retract his “no kill” rule to take him down. It seems these last few episodes have been giving the heroes incentives to play a bit dirty, which could both help them in the fight against Slade, or drag them all down the dark path Oliver had already been down in season one. For Diggle, at least, his adventure with Task Force X has hopefully helped him see the light.
Odds & Ends
- Though Oliver’s brief return to the Russian mafia is ultimately only small part of the episode (despite making up the entire teaser), it definitely showcases how he’s willing to pull out all the stops when it comes to Slade.
- Oliver’s declaration that Sara stay away from him is a bit silly, considering she’s probably the most physically powerful woman on the show so far, and Slade would surely be more apt to go after her if she’s alone. Thankfully, he’s snapped back into his senses before episode’s end.
- Some baby steps are present for Laurel, who puts aside her jealousy to play matchmaker and mediator for Oliver and Sara. It’s very sweet, actually, and it’s nice to see Laurel get to hang out with her sister without the melodrama.
- Now that Lyla and Diggle’s relationship has improved and Lyla is becoming a very likeable character, who’s placing bets that she’ll be tragically killed off by the end of the season?
- Among the parade of returning guest stars, Ben Browder returns as Ted Gaynor in flashback. Though he’s still in a pretty thankless role, the continuity is much appreciated.
- Do I even have to mention that Harley Quinn cameo?
- “Please stop giving him books.”
- “What, OJ and Charles Manson were unavailable?”
- “When we talk, we tend to get divorced.”