Despite the series title, Stephen Amell’s Green Arrow steps aside slightly this week to let John Diggle/Spartan (David Ramsey) take center stage. The plot of “A.W.O.L.” also takes a sidestep away from the central battle between the heroes of Star City and the forces of Damien Darhk. Instead, viewers were introduced to yet another shadowy organization with a mysterious mission and a surprising connection to our heroes’ past. While not all was revealed in this episode, there was just enough of a tease to keep things interesting.
It doesn’t take long for everyday events to get out of hand in Star City, so as soon as you see John and Lyla Diggle (Audrey Marie Anderson) taking an evening stroll, you know shit’s about to go crazy. Right on cue, A.R.G.U.S. operative Alan Chang (Kevin Ohtsji) runs up to the pair asking for help because he’s been compromised. Despite John and Lyla doing their best to stop it, Chang is spirited away by black-masked military types, a very popular costume for late-night revelers in Star City.
While this gang looks like Darhk’s Ghosts, we soon learn that they’re actually an extensive criminal organization operating under the very believable cover of an elite military unit. It takes the torture and death of Chang to get A.R.G.U.S. head Amanda Waller (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) to admit on the sly that they’ve been after this group of mercenaries known as Shadowspire. And guess who has connections to this group of no-goodniks: Andy Diggle.
I’m going to save the flashback sequences for the end of this recap since the episode’s major plot punch comes in the final moments, but I’d just like to point out that Andy Diggle (Eugene Byrd) has been a member of the U.S. military, Shadowspire, and the Ghosts. This makes him one of the most implausibly dangerous veteran henchmen in the history of Arrow. I do like that the writers are giving the extended Diggle family a little more meat to chew on this season but I’m just not feeling the relationship between perennial good guy John and the consistently dirty-dealing screw-up Andy. After quite a bit of time spent apart, the brothers are starting to trust each other again … but that might not end well for either of them.
While Lyla and John escort Andy to Waller’s super-secure HQ to talk to him about his time with Shadowspire, Oliver Queen is spending time with a wheelchair-bound Felicity. Their relationship aside, which is as sweet as it ever was, the strange side-plot between a hallucinating Felicity (drug-assisted or not) and her former Goth hacker self was downright bizarre. Each and every episode in which Felicity undergoes a crisis of confidence during a mission only to regain it by the hour’s end is getting thinner and thinner regarding the moment that incited her mental breakdown. This time, it’s not just Felicity’s physical condition that’s affecting her state of mind, it’s her spiritual state as well. The arrival of Goth Felicity as a figment of her imagination could have been more interesting if there was something supernatural going on, but instead, it only seemed to be a temporary hurdle which Felicity quickly overcomes after an unearned struggle with her belief in her ability to contribute to the team in a worthwhile manner. Sure, she gets Oliver temporarily locked in a cargo container along the way, but in the end, she plays a key role in helping Team Arrow secure its mission and earns the codename Overwatch.
Speaking of Team Arrow, they’re pretty much out of the picture tonight except for a few brief and beautiful scenes of fisticuffs. Green Arrow, Spartan, Speedy and Black Canary go after the missing agents, but are too late; then, without Diggle, they attempt to prevent Shadowspire soldiers from getting their hands on a shipment of railguns, but are left without a fight due to bad intel; and finally they show up for the climactic fight scene to provide a little backup to the Diggles, for once.
It turns out that Shadowspire, led by a military lieutenant by the name of Joyner (Erik Palladino), is after A.R.G.U.S. chief herself, Amanda Waller, and her knowledge of the access codes to the mysterious Rubicon. Since Lyla is caught in the crossfire but John is safely tucked away watching his brother in the facility’s prison cell, the Diggles contact Team Arrow before putting their own plan into action. It’s a good thing backup is coming because Joyner puts a bullet in Waller’s head just to prove that he’s not screwing around and to put added pressure on the retired Lyla to give him the codes. Andy uses his prior relationship with Joyner (which will be explained in the flashbacks) as part of a clever ruse that buys time for Felicity, sorry, Overwatch to block access to the Rubicon after Lyla is forced to give up the codes. What follows is a pretty solid fight sequence that sees the Diggles and Team Arrow taking on Shadowspire, with Andy fighting Joyner one on one. Of course, our heroes win the day. John even invites Andy over for dinner afterwards to meet his niece. All’s well that ends well here, right? Well, let’s travel back in time to see if everything is as it seems between the brothers.
The flashbacks this time around aren’t for Oliver at all; much like the main episode, they’re for the Diggle Brothers who have just enlisted in the military at this time. After surviving an attack on their patrol from foreign Taliban fighters, the Diggles are doing guard duty under their commanding officer, Joyner, who offers them a chance to make some extra cash dealing in drugs taken from the enemy. Acting against his established character, Andy stands up to his superior, pleasing his big brother. But it turns out that John’s suspicions about Andy throwing his lot in with Joyner were correct when it’s revealed that the commanding officer gives Andy his share of the cash and a little something extra. It seems that the Shadowspire operatives are under the control of Baron Reiter, who has just traded in the opium for a map leading to Lian Yu – and whatever powerful items he’s looking for on the cursed island. Presumably then, this is the same group led by Baron Blitzkrieg, aka Baron Reiter, from Oliver’s own island flashbacks, so it’s important to remember that Oliver’s only there because Waller had ordered him to find out what Reiter was up to.
Though Shadowspire sounds like an organization of bad guys made up from whole cloth for the sake of this episode, it’s actually pulled from the DC comics, so I appreciate that attention to detail. I’m not sure how big a role Shadowspire will get to play in future events since the Ghosts are already taking up a big chunk of the faceless henchmen real estate. I’m assuming it’ll play more into Oliver’s past flashbacks or possibly some future conflicts, but for now, it was a good foil for the Brothers Diggle (and Lyla). The episode overall, however, was a tangential one that allowed the normally supporting characters to get their well-earned moment in the spotlight. All well and good, but I’m hoping we get back to more of the traditional Arrow plots next week.
Rating: ★★★ Good
Felicity: “Maybe my new code name could be ‘Hot Wheels.'”
The Diggle Brothers! Seriously though, these two are like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny Devito from Twins.
Andy: “The best place to hide illicit things is right next to legitimate ones.”
Oliver: “Last month when we were fighting Vandal Savage, Barry ran back through time and changed things.” Laurel: “Wait, what?” Oliver: “Barry can travel through time.”
Joyner: “Vengeance and retribution are useless pursuits.”
Nice nod to the DC Comics’ Shadowspire co-creator, writer Tom Joyner.
Andy: “Now’s not the time to not trust me!”
Felicity: “I am so glad our new lair has elevator access.”
That was a pretty crappy way for Waller to leave the show, but do we think Lyla will now take her place as head of A.R.G.U.S.?
Green Arrow: “I was going to go with Oracle, but it’s taken.” I’m a fan of Overwatch, but c’mon, all this nonsense about the showrunners saying Felicity wouldn’t be Oracle… She basically is in all but name.
FYI, showrunner Marc Guggenheim has a thriller novel titled “Overwatch.”
Felicity: “The old me probably would have stolen the Rubicon access codes and made some sort of political statement.” Oliver: “The old me would have snapped Joyner’s neck.”
Oliver: “I’ve seen people shrink and fly, a friend of ours came back from the dead, and I will not stop searching the world until we find a way to make you walk again.” I wonder what trickery they’ll employ to restore Felicity’s mobility at some point in the future. Thoughts?
Have we heard mention of this Rubicon before? Are they bringing a cancelled AMC series back to life? Something in my memory connects this to the A.R.G.U.S. supermax prison on Lian Yu, but I could be making that up completely.