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Arrow season two’s direct dive into comic book lore has been one of the best parts of this season thus far, but we’re never going to get something for nothing. In the past few episodes, for all the drama we’ve gotten from the Lances, Canary, Brother Blood and League of Assassins, we’ve kind of lost the Team Arrow basis that made the latter half of the first season work so well. Diggle and Felicity have been present, but there hasn’t been much of the trifecta working together, and especially not much individual development for Diggle.
As such, “Keep Your Enemies Closer” is something of a distraction, and will likely fly under the radar and be overshadowed by inevitable bigger things to come. That’s a little sad, because Diggle’s personal arc throughout the show has been a near-perfect mix of a classic comic book vendetta and a very grounded, human relationship story. Diggle is an unnaturally buff action hero on a revenge mission, and he’s also a nice guy who wants to do good for both the world and for his friends. Being the soap opera/superhero fusion this show is, half the characters hide their emotions in favor of cool action sequences, and the other half do nothing but show their emotions. Diggle strikes a rarely seen median, perfectly capable of breaking into a Russian gulag and beating everyone up, but still able to unironically address emotional issues and probably gives really good hugs. He doesn’t run around expressing his feelings all the time, but he doesn’t mask that he has them in the way Oliver does, and has no issues showing that he cares. He’s absolutely genuine.
While David Ramsey is hardly the best actor of the show range-wise, he brings such warmth to the character without deflating any of his intimidating strength. He can easily carry an episode like this, because no matter what your stance on the show is at this point, there’s no way to not automatically get attached to Diggle. The human side of the show, with Diggle on a quest to rescue his ex-wife, has been missing in this otherwise solid run of episodes of season 2, and brings this very season one-esque story up in points. Also, Lyla seems much more of a fit for Diggle than Carly did in season one, not to mention the potential to be a Team Arrow asset. All this is also another showcase for how much Oliver has grown since last season, given the dick move he made about Deadshot last season, as he jumps in to help this time.
This is the most we’ve seen of Michael Rowe as Deadshot, and the best showcase of how Rowe has been trying to play the character in his limited screentime in the past. It seems that Rowe’s performance is akin to most of Arrow‘s secondary villains: hammy, more cartoonish than the world that’s been set-up, but clearly intentional. Rowe seems to be channeling a Western gunslinger vibe for his performance, which is fun, even if a little weird. We’re given just enough Deadshot for it to not be grating, though, and he functions best as something for Diggle to play off of. Diggle’s explosion of rage in the freezer is a highlight, and Ramsey totally delivers. The forced hero/villain team-up is fairly common in superhero lore, but the show’s first use of it works given the generally underplayed vendetta, and that the predictable act of Diggle letting Deadshot go led to a decently handled revelation. Nailing Diggle’s motivation as revenge could only be strung out for so long, so capping it now and opening up a larger H.I.V.E. conspiracy is a smart way to keep his personal arc going without undermining the work already done.
Summer Glau hasn’t been terribly impressive as Isabel Rochev thus far, but she finally got a chance to spread her wings this week. Rochev’s quick switch from robotic to more…well…human with just a little booze reads kind of false, but it’s not unwelcome. Glau is generally likeable in any role she plays, if any reason other than that the alienness of her roles is weirdly charming, and that helps her part of Rochev (even if she was, perhaps, miscast.) But what clicks is how Rochev and Oliver click; Amell and Glau both have spot-on comedic timing, for one, and that Rochev is able to hone in on how fake Oliver’s feigned carelessness is bodes well for where she can go. To be fair, Oliver’s really bad at his secret identity (and so is everybody, according to the teaser) but Rochev would be the only one to call him out on it from the business end.
And weird as it may be to see, there’s truth in how their one night stand unfolds. It’s easy to latch on to and root for long-term relationships in soapy shows like these (I think the kids call them “shippers”), but it’s also easy to forget that the world doesn’t always work like that. Oliver’s explanation that one-night stands without attachment are best for him make a lot of sense given his lifestyle both in and out of the hood. We’ve also seen what could happen when he does try to form an actual relationship, given the huge mess the Oliver/Laurel/Tommy triangle was by the end of last season. The dude’s got to get some pleasure somewhere; a girl who has no interest in cuddling or being called the next day is the most logical way to get it.
Of course, there’s the Felicity factor here. An Oliver/Felicity romance–or interest in it, rather–is completely acknowledged by both parties this week, but it’s handled much more delicately than expected. While this is relationship drama through-and-through, it’s not inflated to melodrama; the reasoning behind Oliver’s actions and Felicity’s reaction are understandable, and they’re surprisingly upfront and adult about it all. Sure, Felicity’s played-for-laughs “We’re still in Russia!” bit was a little unprofessional given they were still on-mission, but Team Arrow’s had banter mid-plot since day one. In any case, with the Lances still in play and now a fling with Rochev on the table, the potential for Team Arrow to crack is much higher.
As per usual in Arrow, plenty of subplots are thrown in for good measure. Thea’s lawyer-induced break-up with Roy is an eye-roller at first, considering she could have just explained what Loring told her to Roy. It’s worth noting how much more admirable Thea’s intentions are than they ever would have been last season, but it’s still a very typical TV show-esque way for her to react. Luckily, Moira fixes the situation by being the best mom ever in telling Thea, “I forbid you not to see him.” Pleasant as that may be, Moira’s saintly direction this season is the biggest question mark of all the characters. There’s also the brief scene between Roy and Quentin, verifying that they’re both on the same team–an exceptionally cool, understated moment in the episode that bodes well for future team-ups. Additionally, we meet Amanda Waller, who we predicted would come into play last summer. Cynthia Addai-Robinson is weirdly young and slender for a role meant to be wholly intimidating, but there’s promise in how she and A.R.G.U.S. already figured out Team Arrow’s identities in very Checkmate fashion. It’s a quick introduction, so there’s no way to tell where she’ll go, but it’s another factor to keep an eye on nevertheless.
Island-wise, the timeline of the flashbacks don’t quite match up with what we’re seeing, as per usual, but we’re no less given some interesting content. Though the plot development is light, this is one of the more engaging flashbacks just because of all the bait being thrown out. A super soldier serum? Sara betraying Oliver? Slade’s face? Oliver going by Tommy? With a continually chilling performance from Dylan Neal as the unsettling Ivo, and a surprisingly fun guest performance from David Nykl as Anatoli Knyazev, this new flashback cast has lot of potential. It’s nice to see Slade and Shado once again, too, even if the show’s continuing to push potential relationship drama with them.
“Keep Your Enemies Closer” is another jam-packed episode, but never shies away from focusing on the central Team Arrow, and that’s where it shines. Even with very little in-costume Arrow content, the staging of the Russian gulag and set detail lets this be an immersive, action-packed installment that’s hardly filler. A well-structured prison break plot (that jacket bomb was incredibly clever), extensive character work for Diggle and just the right helping of relationship drama is a nice return to form after the messy weeks prior.
Odds & Ends
- I’ve grown to absolutely love Arrow, but I’m also a sucker for a good, clever episode title…which this show kind of fails at miserably. This episode’s on-the-nose (and spoilery) use of the cliché phrase might be the worst offender yet.
- It’s telling when Katie Cassidy’s absence is pretty much completely unnoticeable, given she’s second billing and technically female lead. Kudos to the writers for not shoehorning Laurel into a story she isn’t needed in, but hopefully this doesn’t mean the “solution” for the Laurel problem is phasing her out completely, rather than giving Cassidy something better to do. That said, minimizing her use so she’s only around when necessary, and therefore isn’t stretched thin or superfluous, is a decent enough quick fix.
- With Roy Harper, Brother Blood, and now H.I.V.E. playing vital roles, it’s like this season is an homage to season 3 of Teen Titans.
- So, was that shot on Amanda Waller’s red shoes meant to be a reveal that she was the lady in the red shoes Fyers was working for in season one? It was so subtle I couldn’t tell if that’s what we’re going with, or if she’s a red herring (no pun intended.)
- Is there a deleted scene somewhere that has Isabel questioning why Lyla is on the plane with them? And why she and Diggle looked like they’d just gone through Hell?
- Everyone on the internet already mentioned it, but Diggle’s blue meth is super fun.
- It’s a little odd that an episode with Oliver in Russia still hasn’t answered how he became a Russian mafia boss. They’re really stringing out that story.
- Deadshot killed a guy with an icicle. So that’s cool.
- “Her skirts aren’t that…short…” Amell is getting really good at the comic delivery.
- “I made a speech about government corruption.” Arrow has some strong opinions about Russia.
- “What’d you say?” “Please.”