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Arrow, Ep. 4.10, “Blood Debts”

Arrow Season 4, Episode 10 “Blood Debts”
Written by Oscar Balderrama & Sarah Tarkoff
Directed by Jesse Warn
Airs Wednesdays at 8pm ET on The CW

“Blood Debts” provides the best excuse Arrow‘s had for a long time to indulge its infatuation with the darkness and violence inside Oliver Queen’s soul. And initially, “Blood Debts” seems ready to come back from winter hiatus with a energetic vengeance, with Arrow initiating a manhunt for the Darhkest member of Star City – sure enough, however, the many conflicts and plot lines of season four get in the way of Arrow‘s attempts to explore Oliver’s latest moral compromise, and “Blood Debts” ends up being one of the least action-heavy hours of the season. That wouldn’t be a bad thing, of course, had Arrow doubled down on its characters: instead, all of “Blood Debts” feels like a slave to Arrow‘s overarching plot of season four, which demands constant teasing about who may or may not be dead in the grave four months and a dozen episodes from now.

The reveals bookending “Blood Debts” are by far the most frustrating elements of an unremarkable Arrow episode (and, so far, season), even more so than the utter lack of asskicking by Oliver in this hour; by front-loading its entire story with one dominating image of Oliver mourning in front of a grave, Arrow‘s really suffered to make any of its other stories land with emotional impact. For example: does anyone give a shit about Quentin and Felicity’s mother dating? Or does anyone have any investment in Oliver and Felicity’s engagement, now that we see she’s not wearing her engagement ring in the flash-forwards? Every time Arrow teases us with who is going to die – which again, doesn’t mean shit in this world anymore, thanks to Sara’s return – it only digs itself deeper, reducing any of this ancillary island nonsense (Oliver doesn’t get disposed of after being discovered as a liar and traitor? No way!) and Thea’s relationship/anger problems into distracting background noise.

Even Arrow doesn’t feel all that invested in some of its secondary stories, letting huge, character shifting moments like Diggle beating the living hell out of his brother for information (which he provides, making him the worst Ghost of them all) fall by the wayside, in favor of a story that brings back Machin (the guy who Thea lit on fire) the psychopath, all to tell us that he’s a useless antagonist, and Thea isn’t as angry as she thought she was… because Oliver stopped her from killing him? Because he overpowered her in two seconds flat? I’m still not sure why. Arrow doesn’t really care; it doesn’t really care about much that isn’t Darhk or The Grave, and makes that pretty obvious throughout the length of “Blood Debts.”

Sure, those moments of the episode are entertaining, but the logical hoops it has to jump through to delay their inevitable Final Showdown is laughable. Oliver goes to save Darhk’s family after unleashing a psychopath on them, and Darhk’s just like, meh, whatever? He starts controlling Oliver’s arrows and shooting him with them, to which Oliver is absolutely helpless; and yet, Darhk suddenly just decides to let him go, even though him and his apparently-evil wife are planning a Genesis of some sort, to make a new world for the world’s most fucked-up young child (can you imagine what he hears at the dinner table? sheesh). Even his wife points out how stupid it is for him to not kill Oliver when he had the chance, instead of playing games; but alas, “Blood Debts” ends its present-day narrative with Oliver and Darhk sneering in different locations, smiling at the ones they love and contemplating how much they’re going to kill one another.

With Felicity mostly unseen in the hospital – there’s a random subplot where people kind of care that Oliver isn’t visiting Felicity at all as she goes in and out of surgery, but there’s also a lot of characters who verbally justify his nonsense – the entire formula of Arrow gets thrown out of whack, and not in a good way. And when it’s all in service of a plot twist that is the narrative definition of a “carrot on a stick”, it’s no wonder “Blood Debts” feels so dissonant, an important episode that, ultimately, is so weightless it can’t even generate momentum from its mid-season cliffhangers. Arrow‘s in trouble right now, with its increasingly-convoluted logic and reductive approach to characterization – hopefully “Blood Debts” is just a victim of its placement as a winter premiere, and Arrow can get back on track as it mainlines the Darhk story through the last dozen or so installments.

Other thoughts/observations:

  • Worst subplot in an episode full of them: Thea doesn’t want to date Ollie’s campaign manager because she’s angry… but then no wait, she does want to, because losing a fight proved she has her anger under control.
  • Felicity is oddly calm about being paralyzed; does she not know yet?
  • Who the hell is Brie Thorpe, and why did this episode make such a big deal of panning past her gravestone?
  • Speaking of graves, it’s pretty clear it’s either Diggle, Thea, or Quentin in that casket. After this week’s episode, I’m still on board with the Quentin Eats It theory, though the Thea Bites It train gets some serious momentum here, and gives the Diggle Dies movement a bit of a boost in the process.
  • Uhhh… why is Arrow being such a dickhead about Sara? He insults her as a murderous pyschopath to Laurel’s face!
  • Thea’s trying to hack now? WTF?
  • So let’s make this clear, Diggle: killing thousands of people isn’t “crossing the line”, just when one of your friends gets injured?
  • Arrow always makes me laugh  – it has to go so far out of its own way to justify Arrow killing, even though he pretty much breaks his oath not to multiple times a season (or at least, says he’s going to). Since Felicity said “bitch,” though, I think it’s safe he’s killing someone this season.
  • Over on the island – oh, who really cares about Oliver’s glowing tattoos, and Conklin the BDSM whip lover?
  • Why can’t a female hold her own in a solo fight on this show? So tired of the “man surprises her and overpowers her, because she overestimates herself” trope we’ve watched since the passing of Black Canary.

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