Fans of The CW’s Arrow got a bonus DC Comics treat tonight with the arrival of John Constantine (Matt Ryan). While this episode was completely off the wall – a resurrected assassin driven by bloodlust, a British sorcerer popping up on Lian Yu, and a dip into the subconscious to restore a soul via sword fight – I can’t help but feel like they tried to do way too much with too little time. The result was an incredibly fun episode that moved at a crazy clip, but lacked any room to explore the true emotional depth the writers attempted to resolve.
We normally kick these Arrow recaps off with a discussion of the flashback sequence, but since this is where Constantine unexpectedly shows up first, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point you to my Constantine recaps. For those of you who don’t know, Constantine was a short-lived NBC series that starred Ryan as the title sorcerer. I won’t get into the reasons the show didn’t stick around here, but it suffices to say that The CW was able to resurrect a canceled character and bring him in as a guest spot on a sister series. And boy am I glad they did.
I was a fan of Ryan’s take on Constantine, but I never would have expected him to pop up on the cursed island of Lian Yu in my wildest daydreams. Yes, the island that Oliver is drawn to again and again, where he’s currently under the command of Reiter and shadowed by Conklin though actually on orders from Waller, is straight-up cursed. We learn as much when Constantine arrives, takes Oliver hostage, and has him drive the two of them to an “X marks the spot” on a map. When Constantine explains that this island is a nexus that draws people like Reiter and Oliver to it, we get at least a partial explanation of why this place seems to be a haven for so many bad people and terrible events.
It turns out that Constantine is after the Orb of Horus. (Doing my DC Comics due diligence, perhaps this artifact combines the Claw of Horus with the Orb of Ra? However it pans out, I’d wager we see one or both of these objects again if Constantine makes a return.) The sorcerer wants the ancient spell hidden away within the grimoire of the artifact’s hilt, something that apparently grants him the ability of transferring a tattoo of protection from his own body to Oliver’s. While we don’t know just what it’ll do, we’re definitely going to see it in action before Ollie departs the island for good. Constantine takes the hilt and gives Oliver the orb to give to Reiter; he also gives Oliver a black eye for good measure before escaping via his boat.
So, yeah, that was all just in the flashback sequence! Basically, the flashbacks were all arranged to setup the fact that Constantine owed Oliver for saving his life, a debt that Oliver would cash in during this very hour. In Star City,it seems a crazed blonde woman has been attacking people in the neighborhood of Pennytown. While Oliver & Co. have no clue that this could possibly be a resurrected Sara Lance all hopped up on Lazarus Pit-induced bloodlust, Quentin and Laurel Lance know that she’s come unglued and attempt to stop her before she kills again or gets killed herself.
Of course Oliver and the rest of the team figure out that Sara is back once they see her in the flesh, which leads to a blow-up between Oliver and the deceitful duo of Thea and Laurel. It’s tough to keep all the lies, double-crosses, betrayals and resurrections straight at this point, but essentially Oliver is mad at Laurel for not telling him she resurrected her dead sister, while Laurel is justifiably pissed at him for never trusting her as an equal. There are lots of emotions and accusations flying back and forth in this episode, along with a lot of blame and double-standards to go around; unfortunately, Laurel comes out looking the worst for all of it. Complicating matters is Oliver’s new political strategist Alex Davis who’s advising Oliver to distance himself from Laurel Lance if he wants to avoid a public scandal. That might be the smart move, but it’s no way for Oliver to kick off his “United” campaign.
While Team Arrow tries to track down Sara before she attacks anyone else, they soon figure out that she’s actually targeting Thea, which would make sense considering that Thea is the one responsible for killing her originally. This leads to a pretty great knockdown, drag-out fight between Sara and Thea, a rare one that’s not only between the ladies but is also out of costume. It’s a brutal one that leaves Thea in the hospital, now with a defeated air that almost welcome’s death at Sara’s hands. It seems that although Thea’s murderer (Ra’s al Ghul) is dead which tempers her bloodlust, Sara’s rage is fully engaged as long as Thea lives.
This provides the perfect opportunity for the team to offer up Thea as bait at the defunct Club Verdant. It works like a charm as Sara busts through perhaps her fifth or sixth window of the night in order to take Thea out. You’ve really got to admire Caity Lotz’s commitment to the fight choreography here because she goes absolutely all-out. Laurel almost puts her down for good by drawing a handgun, but Oliver’s tranquilizer arrow buys the team some time.
Here’s where things get nuts.
Remember that favor Constantine owed Oliver? Yeah, Ollie’s calling that one in. With no one else to turn to in order to restore Sara’s soul, Oliver brings Constantine into the new Arrow Cave to perform a ritual. After a few curious glances from Quentin and the revelation that Felicity speaks (or at least has a program that can translate) ancient Aramaic, Constantine takes Oliver and Laurel with him into the shadows of Sara’s mind. What unfolds is … not the best fight ever. Oliver takes out a pair of assassins who were keeping Sara’s “soul” penned up in a facsimile of the Lazarus Pit while Constantine deals with a third through a combination of magic and swordsmanship. All it took to free Sara’s soul was for Laurel and Oliver to work together to, well, pull her out of the water… Not the greatest resolution, but I was here for Constantine anyway.
With Sara restored to her old self, her family embraces her and Team Arrow looks on in admiration at a job well done. Ollie parts ways with Constantine and tells him that if he needs him, he’ll be there (more crossovers!). Constantine, however, has dark words of warning for Oliver should he ever cross paths with Damien Darhk again. That doesn’t bode well when even the Hellblazer is concerned. With Sara restored, Oliver and Laurel patch things up just before Ollie goes to deliver another political speech. All wrapped up in a neat little bow (not that kind of bow), right?
Here’s where I have a problem with tonight’s episode. You can have the fun and craziness that “Haunted” had in spades, or you can have deep, emotional resolutions between characters; you can’t have both because there’s simply not enough time. This episode tried to have it both ways and ended up short-changing the latter. The issues of trustworthiness between Oliver and Thea, or Oliver and Laurel run way deeper than a mere soul-saving and a hug can cure. I did like that “Haunted” spared a few quiet moments for Oliver and Felicity to talk about the people they’ve lost, with Oliver saying that although he wished he could see his parents and Tommy Merlyn again, the Lazarus Pit would only make things worse. Sadly, this brief moment was the only one that felt real in the episode.
Before we wrap things up, let’s talk about Team Quiggle for a moment. That’s right, Quentin Lance and Diggle team up to run an errand for Damien Darhk, after Quentin explains to his new buddy that Darhk has leverage over him. Diggle’s on board because Quentin’s proximity to Darhk will help him find out more about his brother’s death and could give him what he needs to take down H.I.V.E. When the two upload a virus into a Federal server bank, Darhk’s program starts deleting top-secret intel on a number of people; one of them is Diggle’s brother, Andrew. As Darhk reveals, and as Quentin shares with Diggle by episode’s end, H.I.V.E. hired an assassin to kill Andrew in Afghanistan because he was deeply involved with drug and weapons trafficking there, and the (relatively more) evil organization needed to clear him out as competition so they could move in. It’s a bitter pill for Diggle to swallow, and one that puts a share of the guilt on Quentin’s shoulders as the delivery man.
In a lighter subplot, Holt digs into Ray Palmer’s last message at Felicity’s request. After downing innumerable energy drinks, he finds more of the hidden message, a message that reveals that Ray is alive but in trouble. It’s a hopeful addition to Ray’s storyline which has been percolating along this season and looks to get kicked up a notch next week.
So for “Haunted”, I’m torn between loving the appearance of Constantine and the absolute nuttiness of the Bloodlust Sara story, and rolling my eyes at some of the forced dialogue, rushed emotional conflict resolution, and overall feeling of trying to do too much with too little time. But Matt Ryan’s return deserves a star in itself, so that’ll bump this episode up a level.
Rating: ★★★★ Very good
What’s that you said, Sara? I didn’t quite catch it.
Alex: “Your own personal Chappaquiddick.” Thea: “You mean that game from Harry Potter?”
Constantine: “Any of you squabblers got a cigarette?”
Apparently Holt is a Bronze Metal decathlete from the Beijing Olympic games? An odd way to shoehorn this into his character background, but at least they’re sort of sticking to the comics on this one.
Oliver: “You two spend your spa weekend at Nanda Parbat?” Thea: “It was the only place we could get a reservation.”
Oliver: “Why would Sara go after them?” Felicity: “Her marble collection’s a little incomplete.”
Poor Oliver has to whisper every time he wants to shout at Laurel.
Constantine: “What? You never seen magic before?”
Constantine: “Well go on then, Alice. Down the rabbit hole you go.”
Diggle: “That was a good story, I just wish you would have warned me before you gave me a concussion.”
Constantine: “You know, if I’d have known you were surrounded by so many pretty girls, Oliver, I would’ve stopped by sooner.”
Quentin’s side-eyes at Constantine were killing me. Please bring back The Dresden Files starring these two.
Constantine using the peacock feather to scratch his back killed me! Take that, NBC!
Ray Palmer: “What I need you to know is I’m alive and I’m in trouble.”