‘Arrow’ Post-Show Analysis: Season 4, Episode 11: ‘A.W.O.L.’
It’s time for another installment of Pointed Commentary, the feature where grizzled Arrow watcher Matt D. Wilson and newcomer Chris Haley dig into the details of Team Arrow cleaning up the filthy, crime-ridden streets of Star City.
In this week’s “A.W.O.L.,” Dig and the rest of the team try to stop a team of rogue military men from taking over ARGUS while Felicity finds herself in a debate with...herself. Charlotte Brandstrom directed the episode, and it was written by Emilio Ortega Aldrich and Brian Ford Sullivan.
Matt: Where to start with this one, Chris? The unceremonious killing of Amanda Waller? Andy Diggle’s face turn, then heel turn, then second face turn? How Felicity could have just told Oliver that the medication she’s taking causes hallucinations, so it might make her act a little weird? The lovely fall foliage in Afghanistan?
Chris: Oh man, tell me about it. I would certainly like to get into all of these things. I want to take a moment though to say that though I believe we are fair when we give this show a hard time, I enjoyed this episode. I’ll even admit that I enjoyed this episode in spite of the fact that it had not one but two Felicitys! Doubling the thing I probably like the least and it still managed to be a an episode I didn’t hate, so that’s saying something, right?
Matt: Absolutely. I think this episode achieved two really big things: First, it sort of broke the format of the show and put Ollie in the background, which gave it an almost procedural feel. I joked on Twitter that it was a weird episode of NCIS, but I honestly don’t think it was an altogether bad thing that it was. The villains, Shadowspire, had way more of an impact because we knew more about them and they had real connections to the characters, specifically Dig and Andy.
Second, it actually tied the flashbacks to the main plot. Hallelujah! When Reiter came walking out revealing himself to be the head of Shadowspire (as Baron Blitzkrieg is in the comics), it... well, it didn’t exactly justify all those meandering flashbacks, but it achieved considerably more than last season.
Chris: A cold chill ran up my spine when I read that. I’m just imagining the horrors you must have had to suffer through alone last season.
Matt: If you hadn’t shown up I would have spiraled into madness for certain.
Chris: Had you had to deal with Felicity cosplaying as Death previously?
Matt: Yeah, that version of her showed up last season in some flashbacks. To put it briefly, she was a hacker who liked to get into trouble back in those wild days.
Chris: Was it as awful then as it was this week? (Readers: Feel free to let me know if you enjoyed All Black Everything Felicity in the comments.)
Matt: It was... different. This Deathlicity was just there to tell Felicity that she’s bad at computers now because of her spinal injury (?) and talk incessantly while Felicity spoke to Ollie so there could be mega misunderstandings. Again: It’s established that Felicity’s pain medication is making her have hallucinations. Why can’t she tell anyone that?
Chris: Because that would make the episode about 15 minutes short.
Matt: That’s all I can figure! Even when Ollie and Felicity make up at the end, she does not take the time to mention it. Seems like a fairly important side effect.
Chris: I will say that what made all of the Double Felicity scenes even worse for me was the fact that I felt like I was actually starting to see some of the supposed chemistry Arrow fans seem to be so fond of between Ollie and Felicity in that first scene where they’re talking after he’s carried her down the stairs. All of that goodwill was dashed on the rocks of reality that was the rest of the episode. All of the talking to herself scenes were just awful. Like, “this person is atrocious at the craft of acting” awful. Was it just me?
Matt: It was pretty rough, but I don’t know what to chalk it up to. I didn’t find the acting all that bad and technically, it was actually some pretty advanced stuff for Arrow. Points to Charlotte Brandstrom for making the Felicty/Deathlicity scenes pretty seamless when they’re on camera together and actually interacting with each other.
More than anything, it just seems like a forced complication. Not that people who endure traumas don’t have plenty of moments of doubt and battle depression, but the portrayal of it here was... almost hokey, especially with the medication explanation.
Chris: Yeah, maybe that’s the undercurrent of why it bothered me. They’re trying to treat this problem she’s dealing with really seriously and they’re asking the audience to treat it that was as well, and then you go and do something goofy like have her goth self show up to razz her about being upset about her situation. Also, I don’t think it qualifies as throwing a pity party for yourself when your traumatic, violent injury only took place a week or so ago. I will give them credit for having Ollie say what we’d been saying in his little speech at the end about trying to find a way to make her walk again. (Thanks for reading, Arrow Creative Team!)
Matt: While we’re on this, what do you think of her new code name, Overwatch, and the winky nod to Oracle? (Ollie says he considered it as a name, but “it’s taken.”)
Chris: I mean, sure, why not? It’s fine, I guess. Let me ask you a serious question about names though: “American Alpha”; dumb or fun name for Jason Jordan and Chad Gable?
Matt: Back to NXT talk, huh? I think it’s fine, but I really think “Alpha” should be plural.
Chris: Gotta give the people what they want. I’ve been pretty negative even though I liked this episode, so let’s talk about what we liked. How did you feel about this episode overall?
Matt: Well, like I said, it felt kind of off-model for an Arrow episode, but I think that’s one of its strengths. The push-and-pull of whether Andy will betray Dig and Lyla ends up being some good drama, even if it’s melodrama of a sort. And I think Shadowspire is one of the stronger one-off villainous groups the show has had in a while (though maybe they won’t be a one-off). Even the flashbacks are pretty good character builders for Dig and Andy, despite them clearly being filmed anywhere but Afghanistan. Those deciduous trees are a dead giveaway.
Chris: I laughed out loud at that scene when you see those trees in the background, but it was that kind of laugh where you’re like, “Aw, they’re trying their best.”
Matt: Yeah, that’s how I felt during the whole Dig/Andy/ARGUS plot. Like, at first it seemed completely ridiculous that Dig would be rigging monitors in ARGUS HQ to transmit a message, but then he explained that he learned how to do it from Felicity, and I was like, “OK, I’ll buy it.”
Chris: I’m no scientist, but I’m almost certain TVs do not work like that, but I appreciated them trying to techno-babble an explanation. If any of our readers are scientists or electricians or whatever profession would know, please let us know if this could actually work.
Matt: Now that we’re on this, we’ve got to talk about what seems like should have been the big moment of the episode, though it sort of plays like a minor thing: Amanda Waller gets shot and (seemingly) killed. I’ve never been a huge fan of this show’s Amanda Waller because she always looks like she’s about to doze off at any second, but it’s a weird moment, right? I’m very on the fence about it.
Chris: It was a surprise to be sure. I’m obviously not as familiar with the rules of the Arrowverse as you, but if I had to guess I’d say she’s going to show back up somehow. It was a really abrupt ending for such a major character in the DC canon.
Matt: What really got me was how deeply everyone no-sold it afterwards. They’re just hanging out in the Arrowcave congratulating each other and nobody thinks to say, “Hey, Lyla, sorry your boss died.”
Chris: Well, I mean, I don’t think Lyla had any deep, abiding affection for her, right?
Matt: No, and neither did Ollie (who had some history with her), but I’d expect at least a “I didn’t always agree with her, but I respected her” or something like that. Instead, we just got Thea laughing off her death with a crack about a drone strike. It all felt so strange.
That said, I tended to think the script this episode was fairly strong. A few asides really made things better. Early on, I noticed how much smaller Eugene Byrd, who plays Andy, is than David Ramsey. He’s like half his size. And then later in a flashback, Andy says he’s “not built for this” like Dig is, referring to being a soldier. Little stuff like that goes a long way.
Chris: Yeah, absolutely. The flashbacks with Big and Little Dig (tree jokes aside) all seemed so much more… I don’t know if “real” is the best word, but they carried an emotional weight that just makes the Ollie on the island flashbacks seem like a high school production by comparison. All of the interactions and flashbacks with Dig and Andy felt well done and shined above the rest of the material this episode was dealing with.
Matt: Which is even more notable because so much of what we’ve seen of their relationship up to now has just been glaring at each other through bars. This episode had a lot of heavy lifting to do, and it did it.
Chris: Has it bothered you that there’s no bed or toilet in that cage they’ve had Andy in for what seems like months now?
Matt: It does seem inhumane.
While we’re talking about funny details, did you see that Reiter had a straight-up Lord of the Rings map of Purgatory? I wanted him to start talking about how he absolutely must find Tom Bombadil.
Chris: Hahaha, I didn’t think about it at the time, but that is exactly what it looks like. “One does not simply go to this island… you have to kill a lot of time with flashbacks about it.”
Matt: One last thing about a cool detail and I’ll be done. You know how when Team Arrow finds that one dead ARGUS agent, Chang, and he’s missing an eye and it seems gross for the sake of being gross? When Shadowspire used that eye to get into ARGUS, I almost jumped out of my seat. Gross violence for a reason, Chris!
Chris: Oh gross, I didn’t even realize that’s what they were doing. Bleh! But yeah, way to do something for a reason!
Matt: I don’t know why ARGUS wouldn’t delete Chang’s info from their security systems the second he was killed, but you know what, I’ll let it slide this time.
And that’s it for this week! Come back next week for exciting typing action with The Calculator!