**This post contains spoilers for episode 3.03 of Arrow, “Corto Maltese.”**
Arrow still hasn’t gotten its groove back.
It had its moments, like the scene depicted above. And overall, this episode was a lot better than “Sara,” mostly because the direction and editing were a lot tighter, but there was still something off about the entire thing… Mostly from a character standpoint.
We need to talk about John Diggle.
He’s a new father, a loving boyfriend (though he’s self-proclaimed as a “baby daddy”) and a loyal friend. He’s not just a soldier, he’s special forces trained. We watched an entire episode of his backstory where he fought in Afghanistan, not to mention that time he went undercover into a Russian prison to save Lyla. He joined Oliver’s cause not because he felt obligated to clean up the city (though that definitely played a role in it) but because he felt like Oliver needed help staying human. He recognized the PTSD in Oliver and he saw enough good in this young man to think he was worth helping. “[War] scrapes off little pieces of your soul, and you need someone to remind you who you are,” he told Oliver in 1.04. In 1.04! We are talking about a character who was pretty fleshed out by the fourth episode, and no matter how much backstory we’ve gotten on Digg since then — Lyla, his brother’s death, his failed relationship with Carly, his complicated bromance with Floyd Lawton — the Diggle we know now has not wavered from the one who shook Oliver’s hand in that early episode.
He’s sharp, intuitive, and perceptive. He not only recognized the love between Oliver and Felicity, he was also unabashed when he told Oliver about it. He senses Oliver’s mood shifts and even his thoughts just based on minimal information and Oliver’s body language. On top of that, he is content to fade into the backgrounds of scenes, to be seen and not heard, which we saw a lot when he was a bodyguard, and that was because he was always watching and making notes. John Diggle is a force to be reckoned with, both mentally and physically.
So tell me why I had to watch John Diggle get bested on both counts — mentally and physically — by a single and rather unimpressive rogue ARGUS agent.
You can leave a comment telling me that I’m nitpicking, and I’ll nod my head at my computer screen and agree with you. I am nitpicking, but that’s because this show used to hold up to nitpicking. This is the same show that had Moira freaking Queen, a highly complex and polarizing character, who was so tightly written and acted that even her ultimate sacrifice was organic and made sense to the character. This show used to do a credible job of building this stuff up. Slade is the perfect example: it took an entire season, but we went from a proud and trusting Slade at the end of season 1 to a vengeful and single-minded Slade at the end of season 2. That took work, dedication, great storytelling, and attention to detail. There were no shortcuts.
Unfortunately, Sara’s death is still functioning as a shortcut, and it’s spreading to the rest of the show. Am I really supposed to believe that all of Diggle’s training, all of his intuition, just left his body when he got to Corto Maltese? He didn’t sense a trap until he was standing in it? He couldn’t overcome a sloppy little guy who had already shown his hand? He couldn’t dodge a stun gun?
Then there’s Oliver, crouching absurdly behind an oil drum, basically in plain sight of God and everyone, and his response when Diggle’s in trouble is to… Stand up? And scream Diggle’s name? And then kind of… chase after the car? Was I still watching Arrow, or did I watch some B-roll from Oliver and Diggle’s super-secret and ultimately scrapped guest spot on Gotham?
The problem is that Diggle is the rock of this show, he’s the one thing that is never going to change unless he dies. He’s not going to go through a midlife crisis, he’s not going to become Slade 2.0 and come after Oliver, he’s not going to leave the team and go work for Ray Palmer or Malcolm Merlyn. He’s always going to be Diggle because his qualities are based in loyalty and steadiness. So when the show doesn’t get these fundamental things about the most stable character correct, it suddenly leaves a lot of room for other characters to be written poorly.
So now the fact that Felicity’s not really engaging with the team feels like it might be out of character. Laurel’s rampage — the fire in her belly, the compulsion that drives her to get beat within an inch of her life in an alley — that almost feels over the top. Oliver’s decision to tell Thea everything feels a bit hasty and unlike him. We wouldn’t be having all of these doubts if they’d gotten Diggle right in the first place. If they hadn’t killed off Sara. If they hadn’t sacrificed characterization for the shock value.
And yes, it feels strange that Felicity spent the episode hanging out at Queen Consolidated. It’s nice that she has that huge office, it’s nice that the probably-dastardly Ray Palmer didn’t make her his executive assistant, and that he seemed to graciously give her a week off to go guest star on The Flash, but I’m still not really buying the chemistry that everyone seems to think they have. I think it’s because we’ve already spent a half-season watching Felicity suss out the secrets of a handsome brooding man, so it’s weird that her radar isn’t really going off with Ray. This goes back to characterization, and there’s only so long that you can chalk it up to her grief over Sara.
She did share a cute little scene with Laurel, who called her and rather bossily asked Felicity to find someone by “Googling his phone or something,” which is adorable even before Felicity corrects her. Felicity also questions whether they’re friends, which is a bit of lampshading, but it works for these two because I think their relationship will take a long time to develop.
Laurel’s storyline can be summed up in one photo:
Yeah. That’s right. That’s Bruce Wayne from Gotham, and he and Laurel are on similar arcs of making some really bad choices. Bruce, luckily, has an overbearing and slightly murder-y butler looking out for him. Laurel just has her dad, a police captain who is tired of finding his daughters battered and nearly unconscious in the hospital. She swears to Papa Lance that she won’t do this ever again, but she runs to Oliver at the end of the episode and begs him to train her. He invokes her father and Sara as reasons not to help her down this path, and besides, he has enough stuff going on.
The greatest thing about Laurel’s storyline is the fact that she met Ted Grant, a boxing instructor? an MMA fighter? a generic Fighter? who offers to train her at the beginning of the episode (after she erroneously accuses him of perjury, you’re hilarious, Laurel!) and basically has her on her heels as he refuses to back down from her. I like the dynamic and I’m looking forward to more of it, which is good, because she returns after Ollie’s rejection and tells Ted that she’s ready to fight.
We get it, Laurel. You want to be the Canary. WE KNOW.
While we’re talking about kickass ladies, Thea kicked ass all over the place, delivering some great scenes with both Roy and Oliver, separately. The flashbacks also showed her early training with Malcolm, who seems to genuinely love her just before he switches off his emotions and proceeds to beat her up. It’s hard to watch, but Thea’s crucible still makes more sense than Laurel’s at this point (and I can’t stress this point enough: it’s not Laurel’s fault.)
Ultimately, after a relatively small confession from Oliver and a lot of soul searching, Thea decides to return to Starling City with Oliver, Roy, and that bodyguard guy who’s always hanging around, what’s his name again? It’s just funny that Thea doesn’t question Diggle’s continued presence now that the Queens are too broke to afford bodyguards. They all question Thea’s non-reaction when she gets scalding coffee spilled on her hand, though.
I don’t know where Thea goes to live; presumably she’ll get a hotel for now, but I did laugh at the idea of her living at Verdant with Oliver. The episode ends with Oliver asking Roy if Thea seemed different (“Her hair is shorter.”) but they’re interrupted by Nyssa al Ghul, son of Ra’s, Heir to the Demon, and Super Angry Girlfriend of one Sara Lance. Who is dead. In case you forgot.
And she’s demanding to know where Sara is. So that should be fun, yeah?
Next week: Nyssa seems to blame Malcolm for Sara’s death, Oliver grapples with his vow not to kill, and maybe some fun Felicity! Who knows! Just badass women all over the place, scaring the crap out of Oliver and Diggle!