Arrow Season 4, Episode 16 “Broken Hearts”
Airs Wednesdays at 8pm ET on The CW
Trying to use a short-term antagonist as funnel for larger Arrow stories isn’t really a natural path to a memorable, weighty episode: with such a determined nature towards building long, sprawling arcs for each season’s Big Bad, Arrow’s never been able to capture the immediacy of a one-off story and spin it into something more tactile and meaningful to its core of characters. “Blood Hearts”, with its Darhk courtroom drama and Olicity relationship antics, is already drowning in narrative before it even begins: bringing in Cupid only highlights the dichotomy of these two stories, further separating the many thematic and narrative threads of this messy, wildly inconsistent fourth season.
The only real rewarding/watchable parts of this episode are the final five minutes: everything preceding it is classic dramatic over-machination, whether its the ridiculous decision by Quentin to testify in Damien’s court case (“conflict of interest”, anyone?) or Oliver’s asinine suggestion that him and Felicity “pretend” to hold the wedding Felicity literally just called off. Sure, those are great ideas: as much as Oliver’s hope and Quentin’s nobility are designed to drive this show, the obvious wrongheadedness of their decisions weighs heavy on the realities of their individual situations: and until Arrow gets far away from the silliness of Cupid and her celebrity-couple stalking, there’s no room for the episode’s central conflict to breathe.
When it is given some time to develop, Felicity and Oliver’s climatic conversation offers a rare spin on characters reinforcing their ideals. Felicity’s decision to leave Oliver is borne out of him lying to her about having a child (or at least, not telling her about it): but what that really speaks to is her inability to reconcile Oliver’s presence as her partner with his job as a hero. He may have to keep a secret every now and then, and Felicity just can’t handle it: and because of that, she’s “already gone” when it comes to their relationship. If only for a moment, Arrow gives compelling reason and voice to Felicity’s deepest anxieties about having a superhero as her partner: and then she leaves Team Arrow, her inability to reconcile Oliver’s identities forcing her to quit the team she’s been a part of since before they were even remotely close to being lovers.
She’s not taking a time to recover and reassess or anything: no, she hands back the ring and leaves Team Arrow, a turn of story we can all see isn’t going to stick from a mile away. Forget the miracle cure for her paralyzation (she doesn’t realize she can feel anything in her legs until after she’s stood up? Does she get the power to walk back just so the show can repeatedly show her walking away from Oliver?); the most ridiculous thing Felicity’s done this season is leave Team Arrow, all her self-sufficient strength and wit falling to the wayside as she meekly admits how she can’t “handle it” anymore, and can no longer be part of the team around Oliver that helps keep him alive on a weekly basis (her excuse? “You can handle it”, she says).
Inconsistent characterization aside, the most frustrating thing about Arrow is how it openly machinates its story, world, and people for maximum dramatic effect: “Broken Hearts” is essentially an hour full of moments like Felicity standing up while she breaks up with Oliver, only happening with every character in every scene, save for those where Diggle and Thea show up to remind everyone that yes, there are still people on the show who exist outside of Oliver’s love life. “Broken Hearts”, with its empty villain appearance and even less meaningful interactions with its larger stories of season four (does anyone care about the island anymore? anyone?), is about as disappointing a return from “hiatus” as Arrow could offer at this point in season four, throwing nearly the entire cast into the shadows to shed light on two stories that not only don’t go anywhere (also: Cupid doesn’t realize this is the real Arrow?), but feel like they were used to waste time, sluggishly setting up uninteresting pins for the next few episodes to bowl over.