Synopsis of 4×21: Thea battles a returned villain within Darhk’s sanctuary. Diggle and Oliver desperately try to stop Damien from activating Genesis. Felicity recruits her father to hack HIVE’s system.
I fully expect the fourth season of Arrow to play dramatically different for viewers a year from now than for those of us watching it today. This is something that’s true of a lot of shows but the structure of Arrow tends to benefit from a bit of distance.
Season 3’s often repetitive, plodding League of Assassins plot looks better when it’s examined as a slow burn, with Oliver and the team slowly realizing they’ll have to deal with Nyssa and Ra’s, falling to the Demon, infiltrating his inner circle and definitively bringing him down in a showdown in the streets of Star City.
Even with the season not yet done, you can see similar threads running through season four’s construction. Damien and the Ghosts are introduced early, there are some sporadic references to Diggle’s family before his brother appears. There’s a lot of repetition of the lengths Quentin will go to for his family and his city. However, it’s all often broken in very strange ways.
There are so many asides in this season, taking time out of the schedule to set up Legends of Tomorrow or bring in John Constantine for a totally superfluous but fun hour. It’s likely that binge watching and dodging weekly release schedules will flatten these problems. That’s the nature of TV consumption in 2016 but it doesn’t make things easier to watch this week.
“Monument Point” is indicative of the lack of focus throughout this season. It’s an episode that’s going in so many different directions at once, barely spending time with any of them but desperate to find some sort of impact in one. It’s an episode that sees Thea deal with one of the season’s nasties villains while Felicity recruits her father and tries to reconnect with him while Quentin considers committing perjury while Oliver and Diggle try to track down a nuclear failsafe while Damien launches the nukes and takes control of HIVE while the team tries to fight off a siege.
Any number of those stories could have formed the backbone of an episode in and of itself but they’re all crammed into a single hour to the point where it’s hard for anything that happens to have much of an impact. It’s an episode that treats Quentin’s decision to lie to the police with the same reverence that it treats Felicity being complicit in 10,000 people’s deaths. It feels disrespectful at best and damaging to the characters and universe at worst.
While the subtext and big moments here are rough, there are little thrilling moments to be had throughout. Felicity and Calculator’s break in at Palmer Tech is a fun, tense little set-piece and the final siege as the Arrow team takes on HIVE forces while Felicity tries to stop the nukes from going off is a big, brash action sequence, even if it doesn’t make as much sense as it really needs to.
There’s a pervading sense here though that it’s too little too late. The Damien reveal at episode’s end is enlivening but it’s just not enough and while the stakes have been raised, it feels artificial and unearned. Like I mentioned, I think there’s enough here that it’ll be easy to overlook some of the failings of “Monument Point” with the stage set for a high stakes finale.