Summary: The most focused episode of the season so far presents some interesting questions for each character.
If you have not seen this episode yet and do not wish to be spoiled, do not continue reading!
Three days after Oliver left to fight Ra’s al Ghul, the team has not heard from him. Diggle and Roy prepare themselves for the likelihood that he was killed but Felicity won’t accept that. In the meantime, they continue to patrol the city to take down criminals and make it appear the Arrow is still around. Their latest capture leads them to a plot by a crime boss from the Glades, Danny “Brick” Brickwell. After Brick kills one of his associates for possibly leading the cops to his plan, Diggle and Roy find a piece of paper with curious numbers on it.
They bring it to Felicity at the Foundry and discover Malcolm Merlyn is there. Thea is concerned about not hearing from Oliver and Malcolm checks with them on it. Hearing they haven’t heard from him, Malcolm assumes Ra’s killed Oliver and leaves to find out for himself. Laurel arrives and learns of Oliver’s disappearance. She doesn’t believe it, either, especially coming from Merlyn. Merlyn goes to the mountain, finds the sword, and looks out over the chasm where Oliver’s body would’ve dropped.
Oliver survived both the stabbing by Ra’s al Ghul and the long fall on the mountain. Maseo breaks from the League and pulls Oliver from the mountain. He drags him to a cabin. Meanwhile, Merlyn returns to the Arrowcave with the sword. He explains Ra’s ritual of leaving the weapon when killing someone and to test the blood to prove that it’s Oliver’s, even though he knows they won’t believe him. He expresses regret, but also acknowledges that Ra’s will likely see through Oliver’s attempt and realize that this was Merlyn’s plan. Not feeling safe, Merlyn goes to Thea and tells her they have to leave Starling City.
Felicity can’t handle the thought of Oliver dead. She tries to persuade Ray Palmer to stop building his suit to fight crime, but he won’t hear it. Diggle and Roy try to solve the Brick case to distract themselves, and discover that the numbers on the paper were police case files from the evidence depot. They go to confront Brick’s men and Diggle takes a tough beating fighting the man. Scared for her friends’ lives, Felicity closes a door to protect Diggle and Roy but lets Brick and his men escape with evidence. Without that evidence, the DA’s office has to let most of the criminals the Arrow caught go. Brick uses their evidence as blackmail to recruit the criminals into his bid to take over the Glades.
Diggle and Roy are angry with Felicity, and John stresses that they need to trust each other if they are going to continue fighting crime. Felicity says that without Oliver their crusade is done and leaves. Roy also questions how they can do it without Oliver. It leaves Diggle confused about carrying on, as well. Laurel visits and asked Diggle if they are going to continue. Uncertain, he leaves. Laurel sees Sara’s Canary items and decides that someone has to carry on the fight. She attacks some of Brick’s men, in costume. Felicity tells Ray she won’t help him with his cause.
In the past, Oliver and Maseo are assigned to break into Hong Kong police headquarters to steal a vial of the counteragent to Omega, Alpha. Waller promises to help Maseo find Tatsu, but he know she is lying. During the raid, they are confronted by China White’s Triad soldiers. Oliver takes a tracking device from the Alpha vial, plants it on one of the men, and lets him flee. Waller is disappointed, but Oliver plays it off like he hesitated. With Waller gone, Oliver explains to Maseo that he planted the tracker so that he can lead them to China White and to Tatsu. Maseo says that he will owe Oliver a debt.
In the present at the cabin, Oliver’s wounds are stitched and he is nursed back to consciousness. He’s shocked to find that Tatsu is the one who healed him, at Maseo’s request.
Ah, but one can’t resist co-opting Prince Vultan’s exclamation from 1980’s Flash Gordon — in full Brian Blessed voice, no less — at any and all moments of resurrection. Of course, resurrection should be anchored in quotation marks because Oliver Queen never actually died, it turns out. To be fair, Flash Gordon hadn’t died in the movie, either. It was all perception.
It was the most simple of solutions to the whole affair, a question that left fans buzzing over the winter hiatus. Keeping it simple is often the most effective method of doing things, something you learn with maturity and experience. The show has more than dabbled in the fantastic without teetering too far in the direction of fellow series The Flash. It’s experience, though, is to ground things as much as possible for the best possible result. Solving Oliver’s death by not having killed him simply fits the character of the series.
Still, that was one hell of a drop from the promontory of the mountain to the ledge where Maseo found Oliver, right?
The producers have talked about this block of episodes coming out of the hiatus as a trilogy focused around new crime boss Danny “Brick” Brickwell. That trilogy is also about the rest of our cast who aren’t Oliver. In a season with an major themed arc about whether Arrow the hero and Oliver the man can co-exist, it’s a bold move to remove Oliver from the equation to see how life carries on. It’s also one that pays off, at least in the promise seen in this opening act.
Arrow has been hit-and-miss with its midseason premiere episodes the last two years. Season 1’s “Burned” was a stronger episode than many give credit, but a bit of a departure from the story questions presented by “Year’s End.” In Season 2, “Blast Radius” also somewhat side-stepped the broader season issues for a pretty tepid diversion. I actually found it the least successful episode in my Season 2 countdown.
Biggest issue is that the pacing on these returns from the long hiatus has often felt slumbering. You don’t want to fire off your canons too soon, but both episodes felt like they dropped the momentum of the reveals of their mid-season finales. With “Left Behind,” we have a different case, and it just might be the strongest episode of the season so far, as a result.
What’s most important, the man or the mission? Does the mission even exist without the man? These are the questions that Team Arrow is left to face, and by the end of the episode, each is shaken to their very core about it.
It’s disappointing that Felicity is the first to crack, for lack of a better assessment. While I do think the tendency to mythologize Felicity Smoak in the DCwU has started to reach concerning levels, frankly, she has been the battery of the team, powering them on. She’s the idealist who has often fired up both Oliver and Diggle when they’ve been their most vulnerable or most distraught. Diggle may offer the moral compass, but Felicity does seem to feed the light of their shared crusade.
From that standpoint, it makes the most narrative sense that she would be the one to fold. It demonstrates the severity of the situation necessary to spur the others into action or to question the intention of their lives. What’s disappointing is that it solidifies that she bought into everything on the strength of one man. Her idealism was centered on believing in Oliver. More often than not, pinning your beliefs and goals on one person leads to disaster. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have faith in someone, just an acknowledgement of the fragility of people. People can be discouraged. People can be swayed. People can be hurt or killed. If the strength of one’s support in a cause is focused on one person, it is tenuous, at best, no matter how fervent they’ve been in their support in the past.
Now, that’s not to say that Felicity is at the end of her journey. She’s just been shaken to the core by the perceived loss of someone she cares about immensely. She hasn’t had the time to process it, hasn’t had the time to reconcile it with her beliefs. This is a reaction, and she is human. She can’t see the trees for the roots, let alone the forest, at the moment. So, yes, it is unfair to write her off in disappointment.
Diggle and Roy are the immediate contrast, though each from different points of view. They both bought into Oliver’s mission, as much as they personally connected with Oliver. It was Diggle who righted Oliver’s path from vengeance to the greater good, the one to remind him that he represented something bigger than just himself now. It’s quite the view of a proud soldier, believing in the cause, first and foremost. It’s why he turned to the case when he couldn’t make sense of or control anything else. It’s why he was willing to carry on in Oliver’s absence.
That made it quite poignant when Felicity swept his legs out from under him by her departure. She had him focus on the man, and even for his larger worldview, that’s not lost on John. He still saw himself as Oliver’s bodyguard, and his friend, even if he wouldn’t put words to that. For as much as John believes in the mission, he also wants to protect Oliver from himself. That’s why he offers the “sagely” advice. He knows the mission is bigger than Oliver, and that he has to look out for Oliver so that his friend can have a life of his own on top of what they do for others. In that way, he feels he failed, and it’s shaken his confidence.
With Roy, he found a mentor in Oliver, in the Arrow. He found someone to help channel his desires and strengths and faults. Roy didn’t want to get involved because of blind hero worship and thinking it was the cool thing to do. For the selfish, criminal things he’s done, he’s also always seen himself as a protector of the Glades. He ran amongst and against the various street gangs there because of it, and the Arrow’s mission offered him focus.
It’s in Roy’s core to fight for the down-trodden, so even if he’s shaken by the loss of Oliver, it’s inconceivable to think he’ll give up. Roy will go it alone, but he needs the team. His concern is more feeling like they are directionless without Oliver, in addition to losing his friend.
Without the team, that leaves a vacuum, and that’s where Laurel enters the picture. There were so many concerns about Laurel just throwing on a mask and a costume and joining the fray. What did she bring? Why was she necessary? In Laurel’s mind, she can’t let the mission die.
What’s great about this development is that it fits her character. This isn’t just a matter of Laurel wanting to play with the toys in the sandbox, too. She’s a crusader, a lawyer with the heart of a cop. One of the reasons she dealt with the reveal of Oliver as the Arrow so well is because it fit within her worldview. She wants justice, wants to make a difference. And not to make a difference for herself, but for others. It’s why she worked at a non-profit for community legal defense. Why she jumped the fence and joined the District Attorney’s to proactive go after the threats to the city. It’s why she feels so inclined to gear up as Black Canary.
Tying Laurel’s coming out as a mask to not just news of Oliver’s death but the potential that Team Arrow died along with him is both smart and narratively sound. It’s not going to be a pretty path for her, she’s sure to find out, but with the type of threats that exist in Starling City, she feels that someone has to do it. Many will continue to scoff at the development, but one of the best aspects of this episode was showing that it comes from an organic place.
That’s paralleled by Ray Palmer’s storyline. The showrunners joke that they are still waiting on the completion of Ray’s A.T.O.M. suit. True or not, the slow pace with which Ray is building that suit actually works well with his storyline. Building the suit is his response to a very personal tragedy, but he hasn’t taken a gun and hit the streets every night, getting his ass handed to him at every turn. His approach organically fits his personality, and the slow, methodical pace allows them to examine what it means to be a hero and how someone can serve that same mission as Oliver. His passion and motivation aren’t lost, as evidenced in his snap at Felicity over what his fiancee would’ve wanted. It may not be the most rational response to do what Ray is doing — Routh gets a terrific line poking at the very notion — but it’s not some underthought, emotional lashing out, either.
Playing the approaches of Laurel and Ray off of each other is going to be interesting as the rest of the season unfolds.
On top of all of that, the Brick trilogy has meaning because it seeks to undo everything Team Arrow has done. Now, not only can they question their cause, they have to question their validity. Brick, in and of himself, isn’t that interesting of a villain or challenge. At least, not from what we’ve seen so far. Yes, he’s big and strong, and his skin offers near invulnerability, which makes him a tremendous physical threat. Other than that, I couldn’t find much interesting about him. His plan, though, is a rather ingenious one. Blackmail all of the worst criminal element of the city into working for him to take over the Glades. It’s a bold move, but most especially bold in its simplicity.
That’s all about the mission, and in turn, we’re left with the man.
Again, simplicity wins out, in that it’s Maseo who rescues Oliver from ledge. The Hong Kong flashback again relates very directly to the present-day action, but this was a case where it felt appropriate and informative. Past Oliver shows some sparks of life by taking it upon himself to find Tatsu for Maseo outside of Amanda Waller’s wishes and actions. That won him a debt, which Maseo repays in the present.
It does raise a number of questions, most specifically why Maseo gave Oliver the runaround about having nothing to do with his past any longer. I’m sure it could and will be argued that he was making sure to play the role for the League’s benefit. But then what are Maseo and Tatsu’s plans for the League? Why have they infiltrated it?
In any case, it instantly makes the flashback timeline more interesting. When Oliver awakes in the cabin in the present after Tatsu has saved his life, he’s surprised to see her, as if seeing her for the first time since she was abducted by China White in the past. Of course, we’ve had this reaction from Oliver before with Sara. That story carried out, revealing that even though Oliver learned Sara hadn’t died when the audience was first led to believe she did, he had thought she died during the showdown with Slade on the tanker. As the show relies on its common themes and approaches, that leaves open many possibilities of the flashback storyline as it unfolds. Will past Oliver and Maseo be successful in finding Tatsu? Will they split ways in that effort by the end of the season, leading to Oliver’s surprise at seeing Maseo with the League? Will Maseo appear to be killed in the past, leaving Oliver to deal with Waller on his own?
It is a bit surprising to see Oliver conscious so quickly. They easily could’ve had him fighting for his life for three episodes, but that’s not the story they want to tell.
Separating Oliver from the plight of Starling City and the efforts of his partners allows him to deal with himself. There might not be a Lazarus Pit involved, like many had thought or hoped, but this is about rebirth. It’s hard to say how much of that will deal with the League and Ra’s al Ghul during the next two episodes; it seems inevitable that Oliver returns to Starling and everyone’s focus — Malcolm Merlyn and Thea, included — turns to dealing with the League. How Maseo and Tatsu, likely to be in full Katana mode now, factor into Oliver’s personal journey here remains to be seen. It’s all an intriguing prospect, though.
For a season that’s seemed a bit shaky to start, jumping back in following the break turns out a very solid chapter. All threads suddenly feel very connected and very relevant. Allowing everyone else their turn at being hero is a smart and substantial move for a series and its longevity. The bigger aspect of that is examining it from a character perspective. This isn’t just a chance for everyone to get in on the action scenes and look cool. This is an approach from the very centers of their being. That not only grounds the narrative for the show, but it also allows the audience to connect with it on a deeper level. It checks us back in.
It checks the actors back in, too. Not that they weren’t doing their work in the previous nine episodes, but everyone seemed especially present and on-point this hour. Without Oliver, that also gave us a chance to see some pairings we don’t normally get to work with. The most touching of the scenes was the interaction between Diggle and Laurel that has her make the decision to suit up. Who would’ve thought these two would be hugging and comforting one another. It’s not that they are necessarily at odds, but Diggle has had his reservations about Laurel for a long time. It was a very honest and connected moment, and Ramsey and Cassidy work well off of each other. Looking forward to seeing how they spar over the Black Canary.
“Left Behind” sets up an interesting proposition for the season. It makes the seemingly loosey-goosey theme Oliver has been dealing with relevant to the rest of the characters on the show. They get to ask themselves the same question, but also to question just what is their role in this mission at large. Should they be fighting crime and these bigger threats? Should they be working together? What happens if any or all were to just walk away? Not just to the city but to each other.
Suddenly, we’re cooking with fire.
Odds & Ends
- In the comics, Brick is a commanding villain because of his intellect and his criminal cunning. Despite not having stony looking skin, this would seem to be a fairly straightforward and successful adaptation.
- Ray is just a generally and genuinely nice guy. His response to Felicity over Anna was appropriate, yet he seemingly has no anger over it later when on when Felicity comes to withdraw from helping him with the A.T.O.M. project.
- Having Diggle in the Arrow suit at the start of the episode wasn’t only a way to fool the criminals in the city into thinking the Arrow is still around, but was somewhat of a statement on theme of the episode about the mission and the team behind the Arrow. In a way, saying it was too tight, a nice throwaway line, was also telling about the choices they’ll have to make.
- Not having Diggle in a costume while facing Brick and his men at the police evidence depot proves the issue of having him out in the field without a hidden identity. Even just using the balaclava again is going to help, John.
- Roy has picked up quite a bit from Oliver. He might not have the best tactical sense, but he sure knows how to handle himself out there. (Unless, of course, he’s facing Carrie Cutter.)
- So, just what are Alpha and Omega going to do?
- Laurel kicked ass as Black Canary in her first, simple outing. It was nice to see her make use of the “Canary cry” device in a bit more common way than Sara used it. Every little bit is going to help her.