Synopsis of 4×20: Thea takes a trip and ends up in a domed, underground city. Oliver and Felicity contact one of Constantine’s old flames about fighting Darhk. Andy and John face off in a final showdown with Amanda Waller’s doomsday deterrent hanging in the balance.
Despite being one of the show’s most easily identifiable and consistently written characters, Arrow has never quite known what to do with John Diggle. His relationship with Oliver has been mostly staid, he’s generally cooperative with the rest of the team and his own storylines tend to solely focus on his family, whether its his struggles over whether to connect with his brother’s widow, whether he can keep Lila and his child safe and whether he can accept his brother.
On the one hand, this makes his character feel connected to his world and lets his problems feel thematically relevant but it also keeps him almost entirely static, failing to bend or be truly tested by any of the show’s larger plots.
This season has pushed those limits by introducing the returned Andy Diggle and making the divide between John’s personal and professional life less clear cut. It’s a smart move but also one that’s revealed the limitations of the character. It shows that the only way to really bring him into a story is to make that story tie in to his interpersonal relationships.
It’s also made him feel like a bit of a dunce. So much of the macro-storytelling of this season has depended on John’s willingness to look past his brother’s flaws and trust a man who obviously and repeatedly betrays him and, at some point, that starts just making him look foolish.
This comes to a head in “Genesis,” an episode that feels like it’s serving two masters. On the one hand, it’s the resolution of Andy and John’s story but it’s also doing an awful lot of heavy lifting in setting up the season’s endgame, finally seeing Damien take on HIVE and activate the Genesis Project, which consists of him seizing control of the planet’s nukes while protecting a small number of people in domed cities below the Earth.
Those two plot threads rarely connect and when they do, they do so haphazardly. Oliver and Felicity are off in an underground casino learning magic from one of Constantine’s old flames and their return in the episode’s climax is mostly just a convenience to get John and Lila out of a jam. Thea’s plot is entirely outside the episode itself, feeling like a deleted scene from Under the Dome rather than a real part of the episode.
All of the Genesis stuff here feels at least a little ridiculous and it really shows just how at odds Darhk has been with the tone of the show. The project feels like it’d be a better fit for a show like Supergirl, one where the domed, protected cities would at least have a thematic counterpart in the mythology of the Bottle City of Kandor. Here, it just feels random and forces viewers to ask a lot of questions about how this plan has come to be.
As far as working as a part of this season, “Genesis” is fine. It furthers the season’s themes amicably, pushing their heroes into an even more defeated position while Oliver begins to find a way to beat back the darkness but it’s solely adequate viewing. It is nice to see John finally becoming a bit proactive, even if the path getting him there is cliche. Hopefully, with the big plot threads finally revealed, Arrow can start gathering some momentum as it heads towards the final episodes of the year.