‘Arrow’ Post-Show Analaysis: Season 4, Episode 9: ‘Dark Waters’
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.
This week’s episode, “Dark Waters,” unfortunately isn’t a sequel to the J-horror film Dark Water, though it does have quite a bit of doom and gloom, with many major, minor and incidental characters put in some serious peril as Damien Darhk really turns the screws on Team Arrow. John Behring directed, while Wendy Mericle and Ben Sokolowski took on writing duties.
Matt: Chris, I want you to think back to October, all the way back to episode two of the season, the one where we were really under the impression that Jeri Ryan was going to hang around and run for mayor instead of just shuffling off and disappearing. In that episode, there’s a somewhat confusing subplot where Damien Darhk gets mad at Anarky for kidnapping her daughter. It’s almost as if he has some sort of weird moral code that we don’t know everything about yet.
And then in this episode, he kidnaps most of Team Arrow and puts them in Nazi gas chambers. How did we get here?
Chris: I just can’t believe you made a reference to the movie Dark Water instead of to the cartoon The Pirates of Dark Water.
Matt: I had a choice and I made it. But let me clarify: It’s not me who’s making the comparison to Nazi gas chambers. Darhk himself does it in the same episode he says, “Bad guy, remember?” when he invades Ollie’s campaign holiday party. Honestly, what is happening with this character?
Chris: That episode with Anarky feels like it was a lifetime ago. I guess him getting mad about the daughter kidnapping at least has some kind of explanation now, but it’s nonsensical that he’d have such a hard line-in-the-sand kind of rule about it. But of course, I guess that’s a benefit of making a character evil/crazy; you can have them do things that don’t make sense and blame the sloppy writing on that.
Matt: I got really hung up on the question of what Darhk’s deal is this episode. We know a few things about him: He controls the ghosts. He has a sort of telekinetic power. He brainwashes people. He’s working with a group of... co-conspirators? Investors? Middle managers? To carry out some kind of plan to take over Star City. And in the ripped-from-Mad-Men-season-one twist of the episode, we discover here that he has a wife and daughter.
But like, what do we know about the guy? Aside from what Neal McDonough tries to bring out in his performance, do we know anything at all about this character other than that he’s just a bad guy?
Chris: Well, I guess now we know he has a wife and daughter. It’s funny, because when I messaged you about the wedding ring he’s wearing in this episode, I was sure Neal McD just didn’t care enough to take his own off. I think it’s obvious this show is beneath him, so I didn’t mind at all.
Matt: And yet it’s a part of the story. I’ll actually give the creative team (maybe specifically the director) credit on that one. The show superseded our expectations there. Too bad the reveal is kind of a big nothing. Okay, Darhk has a family. Why does it matter?
Chris: Yeah, are we supposed to sympathize with him now? Is this supposed to humanize him after he’s tried to kill the majority of the supporting cast in a gas chamber? Also, now that I think about it, they also had him saying that he thought the Nazis were bad… which seems weird. It’d be as odd as if Samoa Joe saved Finn Balor from getting beaten up by Baron Corbin and then proceeded to beat Finn up himself.
Matt: Our covert NXT reviews continue! Darhk’s Nazi talk is that old, “They were bad, but the trains ran on time” argument, except with gas chambers.
Chris: Train travel is so terrible, people will accept fascism if it can get those stupid, lumbering monsters moving on schedule.
Matt: I don’t think we’re going to figure Darhk’s deal out, but I wanted to raise the question. Now, the lead that I sort of buried: It appears that Felicity dies in this one. The whole episode is a buildup to the “Who’s in that grave?” question introduced in the premiere, but it doesn’t really answer it. We see Felicity bleeding and hurt after some ghosts attack Ollie and Felicity’s limo after his marriage proposal to her, but her death is unconfirmed, which means she’s definitely not dead on this show.
Hell, this entire season has been about how death has no sting on Arrow. Everyone who has died has come back in some form or another.
Chris: Do you think the whole point of whatzhername destroying the Lazarus Pit was just in preparation for this, so people wouldn’t immediately be saying, “Oh, he’s just going to take the 15 minute walk to Nanda Parbat and revive her?”
Matt: Maybe that was Nyssa’s reason for doing it, but also it seemed like Nyssa was pretty justified in that action. It was everybody else who was being kinda nutty. She and Sara are the characters that do the things that make the most sense, hands down.
Chris: You love Sara so much.
Matt: I’ve got to have something to look forward to on Legends of Tomorrow. Let’s go through all the death teases in the episode: Felicity, Thea and Dig almost die in the gas chambers, Malcolm almost gets choked to death, a lot of people nearly get killed in the opening sequence (but no one gets shot because HIVE is basically Cobra). Am I missing any?
Chris: To be fair to HIVE’s evilness, it was stated that some of the volunteers got shot (later some had been released from the hospital, but some were still in surgery). Speaking of that scene though, I don’t want to gloss over the fact that Felicity was immediately able to “shut down the drone” with her tablet. I don’t care what kind of back-from-the-dead world we’re living in here, that is not how technology works. They had Dig shooting at it, and that would have been a fine way to get rid of it. Anyway, I think that was pretty much everyone that was a possible death candidate.
Matt: Yeah, there was so much that was weird about the opening scene. First of all, this was Ollie’s big plan to clean up the bay? A reasonably small volunteer effort? There are federal programs for this kind of stuff. Go for a superfund. Hire a company! This is just kids cleaning shells with toothbrushes.
Chris: I guess you could help the writers out and imagine this was just the PR/raising awareness aspect of his plan. Though, as dumb and poorly thought out as most of his plans tend to be, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was it. One guy standing out in the water with a net. Also, there was something to do with algae? Who even knows what this show is talking about?
Matt: Also, I have to note the kid who looks and acts like a young Felicity (Laurel even states that outright) gets put in danger, and Ollie saves her. That’s... foreshadowing, I guess?
Chris: That kid deserved to get shot. Just standing there smiling and staring at the thing that’s shooting at her. Are you kidding me?! That was the best way they could come up with to put her in danger so Ollie could save her?
Matt: I get the deer-in-the-headlights standing there. She’s a kid, after all. But she’s grinning up a storm, too.
Chris: Yeah, I’d have no problem with it if she wasn’t smiling… unless that was also supposed to be some kind of symbolic thing about Felicity going into all these super-dangerous situations just smiling, in which case, screw this show.
Matt: About the algae or bacteria or whatever it is, apparently that’s part of HIVE’s plan for the bay. And it had something to do with the gas chambers? And this is why Darhk didn’t want Ollie messing with the bay? It’s all so nebulous and unclear. I get the sense it’s supposed to be mysterious, but instead it just feels like the show is withholding important information required to know what the hell is happening. (Or worse yet, the writers are just figuring this stuff out as they go.)
Chris: Don’t forget that underground corn is also involved. Nothing seems quite as sinister as corn.
Matt: Darhk’s quick aside that he doesn’t even like corn is the most evil thing he’s said the entire season. Who doesn’t like corn? That’s what tortilla chips are made of, Chris. He hates nachos. What kind of monster is he?
Chris: Deplorable. That’s the kind of statement that really lets you know this is the kind of guy that would powerbomb his best friend on the edge of the ring just to get ahead in life.
Matt: Or like someone wearing Freddy Krueger cosplay yelling at her tag-team friends for ruining her title match with Bayley. Ahem.
Anyway, let’s talk about some of the other big plotlines in the episode. There’s a lengthy subplot where Felicity’s mom finds an engagement ring and there’s so much pass-agg stuff that follows about why Ollie hasn’t proposed. This is something that could be solved with one discussion (which Felicity and Ollie do eventually have). People who are confident enough in their relationship to marry each other should probably be able to talk that way without being all weird about it for days. Even Felicity’s mom couldn’t make this good.
Chris: That is one of my most hated media tropes. The thing where people don’t talk about something the way that normal humans would because the plot demands they don’t until later. I hate that so, so much.
Matt: Let’s see. Curtis showed up at the holiday party with his husband. I liked that part.
Chris: Yeah, the only problem was that they were only around for a few seconds. Looking back on last week’s episode, it seems like having another super-genius like Curtis around might have helped. Ray too, probably. I mean, I know that episode already had too many people in it, but I like to imagine a world that adheres to some kind of rules of logical thought.
Matt: Speaking of logic, why was Felicity so upset to see her mom dating Captain Lance? I mean, I guess it’s a jarring thing to see a parent dating anyone, but of all people for Mama Smoak to be with, I’d think the de facto top cop in the city would be a pretty decent choice, especially since Lance is generally a good, moral person.
Chris: I think it’s probably that thing of seeing a parent being all gross with someone, added to seeing someone you know from work being all gross with someone, added to the fact that you don’t think of either of those people in that way, added to the one person is your friend’s dad. Also, it’s lazy, easy comedy.
Matt: There’s also the Dig’s brother story. Is there anything to say about that? They growled at each other for a while, nothing really changed.
Chris: It bothers me that all he has in that cage is a chair. No bathroom, no bed, no blanket. Team Arrow: the real monsters.
Matt: And then there were the flashbacks. I’ve never seen flashbacks have such little impact on anything. Ollie swam to grab a map, got bitten by a shark to explain a scar, and then Conklin showed up and was mad at him. That was all that happened there.
Chris: This entire season’s worth of flashbacks have been pointless, and you say they do this every season? Also, what did Ollie think was going to happen when he’s under high suspicion of not being what he says he is and then disappears for long stretches all of the time?
Matt: Conklin doubting that Ollie is a spy despite having solid proof that he is one was the most baffling thing to me. And yes, they have flashbacks every season. For the first two, they added something to the show. Now, I don’t even know what they are.
And that’s it for this half-season(ish)! We’ll be back in January for more, Lord help us. Until then, happy holidays, Arrowheads!