Synopsis of 4×11: A criminal syndicate plays an intricate game with A.R.G.U.S. and takes over the facility, holding Lila and Waller hostage. Felicity struggles with her paralysis, self doubt and her past.
After a week of settling the lingering issues of the mid-season cliffhanger, Arrow is all about setting a new, at least temporary status quo in this week’s “A.W.O.L.” What’s here isn’t all good. This season of Arrow has been a bit all over the place thematically, stylistically, and plot wise and “A.W.O.L.” carries on that trend, focusing on A.R.G.U.S., Lila, and Amanda Waller for the first time all season but also making some, frankly, bizarre choices with two characters.
The plot focuses on Shadowspire, a crime syndicate/mercenary organization that Andy has past ties to, who murder an A.R.G.U.S. agent in the street, sending Lila and Diggle on an investigation into their activities, with Andy as their ace in the hole. Meanwhile, Felicity is trying to recover from her surgery while coming to terms with her new role on the team, as her mobility is limited. Her struggle finds a familiar face in seemingly drug-induced hallucinations of her past, with her goth college kid days manifesting as awfully close to a character longtime comics readers will remember lovingly.
Yeah, so Felicity sees herself as Death, from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman books, particularly Gaiman and Chris Bachalo’s Death: The High Cost of Living. It’s a really, really weird choice. Death is a very specific, well known, beloved character, with, yes, a recognizable goth fashion aesthetic but that’s the only thing about her that applies here.
I feel like the writers knew that Death was a character, remembered that Felicity had a goth phase and just decided to sort of blend the two because, I don’t know, confusing the audience of this show is their favorite thing? They’re nursing a grudge with Neil Gaiman? Some unresolved feelings about Dresden Dolls? It’s just strange.
That weird, haphazard borrowing from DC Comics really continues throughout the episode and comes to a head with Amanda Waller. Now, I don’t have 6,000 words and two bottles of scotch so I can’t really get into all the myriad ways Arrow has misused, mischaracterized and underutilized Amanda Waller but, suffice to say, she’s never been one of the show’s strongest assets.
None of that has to do with Cynthia Addai-Robinson’s performance, where she often is able to do quite a bit with very little but it’s all had to do with the character. The writers never quite got a handle on the nihilism and pessimism of Waller or Suicide Squad and that left her defanged and in a bit of a lurch, never quite as dangerous or formidable as she should be.
It all adds up to a less-than-powerful moment when Waller and Lila are taken hostage by Shadowspire. To the writers’ credit, they do nail Waller’s indifference to human life but the way she’s killed is just so pointless and without magnitude.
Sure, this is a show that never knew what to do with her, but Waller’s legitimately a beloved character, one of the DCU’s most important non-superhero figures and someone who consistently was a source of storytelling potential. It’s a little mystifying why she’s taken out so unceremoniously here, without fanfare or a whole lot of respect.
It all adds up to an episode that feels like its falling apart at the seams, like small strange decisions are complicating what should be a fine, if slightly unambitious episode. “A.W.O.L.” by no means is Arrow at its worst, but it’s the show at its most formulaic and distant, separate from both its own characters and the comic book world it’s come closer to truly embracing this season.