Warning – FULL SPOILERS for Tonight’s 2015 Finale “Dark Waters”:

Let’s go ahead and get this one out of the way: nope! It isn’t Arrow’s fault that so many other series have attempted to play this card of late, but there isn’t a chance in hell “Dark Waters” actually killed off Felicity. Joss Whedon these writers are not, to kill the series’ best character at a moment of peak happiness, though I’ll grant that if ever the series does attempt to kill Felicity for real, they’d better afford Emily Bett Rickards as many wonderful moments and colors as tonight brought.

Not everyone necessarily watches the “next week” promos, so skip to the next paragraph to avoid a minor spoiler, but not only did the 2016 “Blood Debts” preview immediately undermine Felicity’s explicit death with a trip to the hospital, returning to the grave scene in the final moments assuredly intended to mislead us. It would destroy any real surprise, to structure the promo as gunshot to hospital to grave, if that was really what happened. Rest easy, fans.

In earnest, line of sight in this shot was WAY more worrying.

Perhaps also worth getting out of the way, how relieved does Season 4 feel to be out from under all the Legends of Tomorrow setup? Granted, a “midseason finale” understandably packs a bigger punch than your average episode, “Dark Waters” brought so much to the table tonight, without feeling in service of another series. We still don’t have the clearest idea of what Darhk has planned for Star City, or what he himself represents, but the gamble of bringing his name and misdeeds to light felt like a huge win for the season. Something actually got to him, and if there’s one thing Neal McDonough does well, it’s unravel ominously.

It was interesting to see Oliver pushed to such a dark place in pursuit rescuing the team as well, particularly given constant reminders that he’d been falling into old habits. So much of Season 4 has been spent in service of Oliver trying to change his brooding loner ways, that Laurel and Malcolm (cleverly disguising himself as the Green Arrow) arriving to save the day felt that much more earned. In and of itself, the gas chamber scenes threatened to turn much darker than The CW can afford*, and “the cavalry”s arrival kept enough surprise for Oliver to finally keep an advantage over Damien Darhk.

*One might tug a collar at Darhk invoking Nazi sympathy in his plan to use gas chambers especially given producer Marc Guggenheim had to explicitly clarify that the “Baron Reiter” character of Oliver’s flashbacks had nothing to do with his Nazi-associated counterpart in comics.

It is astonishing how often villains fall for this trick.

The strong sense of action notwithstanding (Green Merlyn vs. Damien Darhk for the win!), the emotions felt especially on point tonight as well. One could easily label “Dark Waters” as one of Emily Bett Rickards and Felicity’s best hours to date, playing every color between her usual awkward self, to knocking out Ghosts with a lead pipe, defiantly reminding Oliver who decides when she needs protection, and still allowing excitement to wash over her discovery of Oliver’s engagement ring. The actual public proposal itself didn’t quite raise the bar for TV romance, but the buildup woven throughout the hour more than earned the moment.

There was a lot going on tonight overall, and it was nice to see “Dark Waters” putting in effort amid the Lances as well, Laurel too reminding her father that she didn’t necessarily always need his protection (a sentiment Thea would echo with Malcolm as well). Felicity’s immediate predicament notwithstanding, you can definitely feel a target shifting back to Lance, for all the wonderful moments Paul Blackthorne got to play tonight, even if a few beats like the relationship with Donna blew right by. It isn’t entirely clear how soundly his relationship with Darhk imploded either, but unless the team permanently silenced all those “volunteers*” in the tunnels, things aren’t looking so good.

*Tonight also spent a fair bit of time dealing with Diggle in an attempt to rehabilitate, or at least understand Andy’s betrayal, though it never seemed to land on a definitive angle. Frankly, it’s almost surprising Diggle expected any real answers out of his brother, given the overwhelming likelihood of brainwashing, or some supernatural force at work.

Feel like I've seen this in a movie before. Oh well, the night is dark.

I’ve almost invariably ended up reserving flashback talk for last, as even tonight didn’t leave us with very much to go on either. Oliver held his breath real good, and got a map from the sub (or freighter?). He survived an offscreen shark attack. Conklin found him, and presumably outed him as a spy. Alright then.

It really can’t be overstated how great it felt to have an Arrow episode that actually functioned as an Arrow episode again, and “Dark Waters” mostly knocked it out of the park all the same. I imagine plenty have their doubts about Felicity’s mortal condition, but tonight still managed to build some real tension in a number of spots, allthewhile leaving us with plenty to chew on over Damien Darhk’s real intent. Gas chambers? Corn? Algae? Some random wife and child? Whatever keeps Neal McDonough delightfully weird, I’m in!

AND ANOTHER THING …

  • Mini-Felicity!
  • Donna, recognizing the diamond’s carat with half a second’s glance.
  • Seriously, everything Malcolm tonight. Breaking into the lair again, “minions,” Laurel’s “bondage outfit,” everything.
  • Odd that Curtis Holt dropped by to introduce his husband, in that it didn’t pay off with Oliver calling him for help with the Ghost’s phone.
  • Something always bugs me a bit over the Canary Cry. Maybe Katie Cassidy’s exaggerated posture, maybe a bit more visual flair needed overall.

Arrow Season 4 will return January 20 with the “Blood Debts,” airing at 8:00 P.M. on The CW.

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