“Next of Kin” is a reminder of how much Arrow can get away with when it peppers its episodes with funny, character-driven moments and some solid fight scenes. This week’s exploration of what Team Arrow looks like without Oliver Queen fell short dramatically, but made up for it in sheer watch-ability. Arrow hasn’t had this much fun in a long time.
“Next of Kin” inherited a few tough narrative problems from last week — chiefly the idea that John Diggle would risk the safety of his friends and team members because of his pride. Last week’s episode ended with Oliver asking John to take over the Green Arrow identity; this week begins with John having accepted that role. And if you thought making stupid decisions and irrationally carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders was part of the Green Arrow persona, then you’d be right.
Team Arrow’s first mission with John as the full-time Green Arrow revolves around a group of former soldiers who stole a bunch of foreign gold and then used fake terrorist attacks to kill off their colleagues who knew about the heist. Or something. The criminals are led by Onyx, a flashbomb-wielding woman who has literally zero character development. She steals lethal gas from Kord Industries as if it’s just another Wednesday, but, who knows? Maybe she volunteers at animal shelters in her free time.
The tension in the Team Arrow plotline is not found in the underdeveloped antagonists, but rather in John’s silence and struggles. He not only continues to have physical trouble, what with his mysterious nerve damage, but also mental roadblocks. He’s never been the sole leader of a team, he says later in the episode; he’s not used to taking it all on himself. This feels like a lazy way to fill the transition to an Oliver-less Team Arrow with tension.
Later in the episode, once Diggle has successfully led a mission to take down Onyx, the team gifts him with a crossbow. The aesthetic problems may be solved with the new weapon, but Diggle’s decision to stay quiet about his difficulties imply a much deeper issue, one that becomes even more worrying when we see Diggle inserting some kind of drug into his body in the shadiest corners of Star City. Oh, John. You’re better than this.
Arrow’s continuation of the William storyline is much more successful, finally bringing Felicity into the mix and giving us plenty of hilarious jokes about Oliver’s upbringing. When William needs help with a math test, Oliver brings in the big guns. Felicity and William get along so well that Oliver decides he wants her back in his life… romantically. Frankly, I’m surprised Oliver lasted this long without running to Felicity for help. Fact: Felicity Smoak, three-time mathletics state champion, makes everything better.
Finally, we have the Samandra Watson storyline. While Channel 52 has given up on pinning the Green Arrow to Oliver, Agent Watson is just getting started — and she’s smart. When Oliver invokes a city-wide referendum to vote on some anti-vigilante legislation, Watson immediately assumes Oliver is protecting someone. She even stares at a photo of John Diggle while she voices her suspicions to an empty room.
Something tells me Oliver is about to be outwitted. The question is: Who will take the fall?
Rating: ★★★ Good