Welcome back! A bit of housekeeping to start, as Arrow and The Flash are finally free of the Legends of Tomorrow setup plaguing them all season, the first review of which you can find right here (it’s fine). Still, what a tremendous relief it feels, to finally let Arrow be Arrow again, diving right back into the action of December’s “Dark Waters,” rushing Felicity to the hospital and sending Oliver on a warpath to track down Damien Darhk. No distractions, no winged immortals, just the series we’ve been missing.

The elephant in the room of course, is that Felicity very predictably survived her 2015 gunshots, and may in fact use a wheelchair for the foreseeable future, even if I question Arrow’s willingness to counter status-quo for the series’ duration (ditto Oliver’s mayoral run). What “Blood Debts” did very well, however was not to waste time on Felicity in mortal peril, very much making her a part of the hour, even hoarse and bedridden. All of Emily Bett Rickards’ scenes tonight were lovely, rolling right past any emphasis on tragedy porn or breakup peril with Oliver, as she immediately understood why he’d keep busy tracking down Darhk.

"While I have you, there's this kid back in Central City ... "

Seeing as our first refresher of the grave flash-forward didn’t offer much new information, the bigger twist lay in what cause Felicity to change her mind later on, encouraging Oliver to return his murderous ways, as the final minutes confirmed a dumbstruck (and seated) Felicity alive and well months from now. “Blood Debts” itself seemed to waver back and forth on Oliver’s evolution as a hero, a point given at least some meta-reference in Anarky’s exasperated reminder of Oliver’s off-and-on pursuit.

It isn’t fair to suggest that Arrow itself lost any edge with Oliver’s unwillingness to kill, though it’s at least of interest here what could change Felicity’s tune so dramatically from an hour spent pulling Oliver back into the light. If anything, Arrow dips into that particular conflict rather repeatedly; it’s just nice being able to ask those questions of the series again, considering how much Legends pulled focus from any kind of moral pursuit.

The added breathing room circled well around “Blood Debts,” allowing Diggle to finally turn a corner pulling back Andy from his own fight with Darhk-ness*, as well allowing Lyla to be the one to place Dig on that path. It’s an unfortunate reality of both Seasons 3 and 4 front-loading a mystery aspect, that one has to wonder if Lyla’s brief appearance paints a target on her back, or Diggle’s, though the button of Dig playing cards with his brother added a nice touch, dovetailing well with Season 4’s overall push to resolve conflicts in the light.

*Has Arrow landed on whether Darhk’s men are permanently brainwashed, given their DNA alteration? I find it hard to read whether Darhk still has some hold over Andy, or if the character was genuinely angry enough at Diggle, and disillusioned enough with the war to support Damien’s endgame. Also, has no one raised the idea of bringing his wife and child to visit?

They could even have their own goofy helmets!

Thea too got some spotlight in her intriguing dynamic with Alexander Calvert’s returning Anarky, whose creepily translucent mask and just-hinged performance actually worked well for Arrow’s usual track-record of one-off villains, keeping just-shy of Vertigo camp. That said, the nature of Thea’s “Bloodlust” guilt isn’t solidifying as well as writers’ would like, leaving the back-and-forth relationship with Parker Young’s Alex at least somewhat inert. Better use of the time might have been the burgeoning vigilante/legal conflict between Oliver and Laurel’s use of Anarky to find Damien Darhk, an idea the series will undoubtedly play more with as the two grow into their comic roles.

Definitely a few kinks here and there, as Oliver’s ultimate confrontation with Damien Darhk ended up strangely fizzling out, but this was a very solid return overall. There’s work to be done, in choosing a more unique position to land on Oliver’s rules against killing, as-well better tying Flashback Oliver to things we know about the character now, but “Blood Debts” is easily the most optimistic of Arrow I’ve felt in months.

AND ANOTHER THING …

  • Were we meant to think Oliver killed the one Ghost who crashed into a fuse box? Another jumped into active wires on his own, but I don’t know if the text made clear if Oliver had broken his no-kill rule yet.
  • Anarky worked reasonably well, even if the insane choreography and skill seemed to come out of nowhere. Were those cattle prod-staff-nunchaku?
  • That was some … awkward staging, to find Quentin and Donna in.
  • Oliver’s flashback tattoo can glow. Carry on.
  • Are we really throwing shade at Oliver for keeping Anarky prisoner, with Andy Diggle in a cage next door, or with The Flash still spitting on the justice system from an unmonitored super-prison?
  • “How dare she.” :::heart explodes:::
  • Ten bucks Alex turns out to be Damien Darhk’s son.

Arrow Season 4 will return January 27 with “A.W.O.L.”, airing at 8:00 P.M. on The CW.

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