If you have not seen this episode yet and do not wish to be spoiled, do not continue reading!
Star City has a new Green Arrow, but Diggle is having a crisis of faith and ability. Interestingly, it’s not due to his physical impediment. In fact, he tells Dinah that the tremor is gone. Rather, John is feeling the weight of being the sole decision-maker for the team out in the field.
After a pretty successful first week with the new order, topped by an impressive takedown of Alex Faust involving a Green Arrow swan dive off of a high rise with Canary Cry chaser to push him over to the top of a parking garage, the team is feeling rather good about things. There are a few noticeable flaws, though, specifically that Green Arrow, the archer, hasn’t actually fired any arrows during their missions. Diggle attributes this to his lack of archery skills, but Dinah has to wonder if it is due to his nerve damage. After all, he was on his way to tell Oliver about the problem and now, suddenly, he’s wearing the green hood and it’s no biggie. Sure enough, in his actions, he seems to handle himself quite efectively with no signs of the tremor. In fact, the episode makes quite the effort to show just how capable he is in the opening bit. There is, of course, a sign that all is not quite right, as Curtis finds it odd to call Diggle the Green Arrow and John agrees, sidestepping the moniker.
That crack turns to a split fault line when DigArrow takes a shot to the chest while trying to stop Onyx and her Blackout crew from hijacking a weapons-grad biotoxin brought to us from the family-friendly folks at Kord Industries. (Seriously, when is Ted Kord gonna show up and take control of his company?) Rattled by the personal failure, John stalls in making decisions, putting some innocents in the hospital when the transport truck crashes and explodes and allowing Blackout to make off with the gas. Needless to say, the rest of Team Arrow is shaken in their confidence with the new hood honcho.
Again, this isn’t necessarily new ground covered in the series — even with John, he abandoned the team and rejoined the military following being shaken by his shooting his brother Andy — but the episode is nicely couched in the relationship between John and Oliver, as well as how much John contributed to the Green Arrow over the years. Some of Arrow‘s best scenes have been David Ramsey and Stephen Amell philosophizing and bro-bonding as their characters worked through whichever current challenge. It was good to get a scene, a beautifully quiet and small interaction, where Oliver gets to help set Diggle right this time. Oliver’s committed to being a present father to William, but there’s no way he’d leave his compadres in a lurch. (More on that in a bit.) Certainly not his best friend and his best man.
Personally, after picking up on the glaring irony of Oliver asking another father to take up his role so that William wouldn’t lose him, it was refreshing to see this interaction address that so quickly. John, and Lyla for that matter, have already made peace with this lifestyle, so it was obviously not something to hold him back. Still, it’s a small moment of writing that helps to recognize a genuine living, breathing world, and for that very appreciated. Also, the callback to the Royal Flush Gang in Season 1’s appropriately named “Legacies” (“the Restons”) was organic, seamless, and a great use of the history of these two to help bolster Diggle’s poise.
Of course, John isn’t right, and it’s hard not to feel crestfallen with the end-scene reveal that he’s buying back-alley medication as a means to temper the physical deterioration brought on by his injury. Diggle’s human and doesn’t necessarily hide that, but more often than not he’s the paragon of the team. He’s long been the moral compass of the group, so to see him so desperate as to step outside himself to go this route is a kick to the nethers. More, these types of storylines aren’t often handled the best in genre television. I instantly think back to the single episode of Season 8 of Smallville when Henry James Olson suddenly had a drug problem to cope with the break-up of his marriage to Chloe. For Arrow, Earth-1 Laurel’s struggle in Season 2 wasn’t handled with the deftest touch. One can be forgiven for being leery of this storyline. Here’s hoping they mine it effectively.
Though, it certainly spells clear trouble for Team Arrow going forward. For the most part, Oliver was able to successfully dodge his outing as Green Arrow with the public, but the episode delved into an interesting side effect of the spotlight put on these heroes and their work. The inherent debate about vigilantism aside, the public and media have had a tenuous relationship with the Arrow and the Green Arrow and his crew over the years. They are mostly in a place of acceptance, especially with their mayor openly and actively supporting the efforts of these individuals. As Quentin points out, especially in the wake of the SCPD bombing two episodes ago, confidence in the police force is at a low, an unintended byproduct of Team Arrow’s success. Now, the city council is trying to enforce outlaw status for vigilantes, putting Oliver in a precarious position, particularly with Special Agent Samanda Watson breathing down his neck.
Watson’s pursuit of Oliver seems a little too convenient rather than earned upfront, but it sets an interesting dynamic for Oliver to now work against as mayor given his intimate knowledge and involvement with the heroes. She does pull at a thread which seems rather easy to unravel once you start, tacking all of our crew up on her board and pegging Diggle as the likely Green Arrow. Curiously, you’d have to wonder if the FBI got word from people that GA seems to be African-American now. It was great that they incorporated the fact that Diggle isn’t an archer, and that people were noticing. The question stood out in a big, obvious way when Oliver chose him, and just like acknowledging that Diggle is a father at risk too, it was a welcome touch. Masking that with the “Grey Monster,” an oversized crossbow that shoots full arrows rather than bolts, is a stroke of genius on Felicity’s and Curtis’ parts. Will Diggle’s use of the meds prove the slip that gives Watson her opportunity?
More interesting is Oliver’s solution to the anti-vig legislation. Having personally dealt with municipal politics on some issues in the last few years, invoking a clause to call for a public referendum — a vote — on the legislation is an inventive and bold move. It puts it on the people to okay heroes in the city, which could potentially backfire on him. What matters more, though, is that Oliver found a way to circumvent the council’s authority within the rules and regulations of his job as mayor. We’re going to have Oliver outside the hood for a number of episodes, so it’s a treat to see them give him a challenge related to everything the team is doing but specifically pointed towards this other aspect of his life. It was a smart move, and it was especially well done considering they spent the episode making fun of the fact that Oliver was kind of a dolt when it came to school.
Oliver trying to help William prep for his test felt like a more natural trial this week and everything about their interactions in their home more natural as well. William needing math help was a bit of a cheat to advance the latest chapter of the Olicity story, but it was a logical and organic one. It’s clear in the months since Lian Yu that the two have been growing closer together again and expressing a desire to do so. They’ve even had discussions about how carrying on a relationship might adversely affect William in the wake of Samantha’s death and decided to keep at arm’s length until now. Oliver giving Felicity a key to his place — do we know if their apartments are in the same building? It sure feels like it — felt earned. In fact, the way they’ve (the characters and the show) approached the relationship to start this year has been mature and honest, which is when the Olicity of it all tends to be at its best. They both feel like individuals navigating their own worlds, which intersect in some ways, as well as working to potentially merge them without compromising Oliver’s desire at a normal life.
Little mention of Onyx and Blackout here because this was yet another case of a mostly throwaway villain, something latter-day Arrow seems to do a little too often. Aside from feeling like somewhat of a rehash of Liza Warner, complete with her own crew, they just didn’t give much for guest star Chastity Dotson to do, nor much to make the character memorable.
What was memorable was DigArrow’s fight scene with her seen from the perspective of inside the limousine. The stunt work, in particular the filming around it, is quite often top-notch on the series, but it has been a while since we’d seen an iconic fight sequence. This was definitely one to note, and wonderfully choreographed, staged, and shot. Kudos to director Kevin Tancharoen, coordinator James Bamford, and the rest of the technical crew on a fabulous showpiece. Tancharoen has helmed a number of similar setpieces on all of the CW Arrowverse shows, as well as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Iron Fist, and Inhumans for Marvel. Standouts include Skye/Daisy’s fight in the lab in the Season 2 episode “The Dirty Half Dozen” of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the drunken master fight in China in episode #1.8 of Iron Fist. Add this to the list.
Overall, “Next of Kin” is a strong episode with good character focus. While the primary villain feels secondary, undercutting the stakes, the setup and continued evolution of our band of heroes, for good or bad, becomes more intriguing. How big of a fall should we expect in this setup with Diggle’s compromised leadership of the team as the new Green Arrow?