[This is a review of Arrow season 4, episode 17. There will be SPOILERS.]
Not long ago, Arrow rushed through what would otherwise be thought of as a major, potentially season-long plot thread involving Felicity being paralyzed as a result of the ongoing (but really going nowhere) battle between Oliver Queen and Damien Darhk. The character’s paralysis lasted just long enough for her to dramatically walk out on Oliver after learning he’d kept knowledge of his child from her. As a result, there was the sense that the show had used the injury to enhance the emotional impact of what looks to be the end of Felicity and Oliver’s relationship, and her role on the team as Overwatch – i.e., the group’s resident tech guru.
Aside from the feeling that Arrow had mostly glossed over a traumatic, life-altering event in an attempt to neither linger on the emotional fallout (inasmuch as it didn’t happen to the show’s protagonist) nor explore the long-term ramifications of such a thing, it also felt as though Curtis Holt (Echo Kellum) was getting short shrift in the storytelling department. Thankfully, although it doesn’t do much to address the former issues as they pertain to an actual examination of what it means when a major character undergoes a fundamental alteration as Felicity did, ‘Beacon of Hope’ at least addresses Curtis’ Terrific technology and what it might mean for the rest of the world and for Palmer Technologies, and has a good time in the process.
It says a lot about Curtis’ character that he created a major piece of tech that will likely alter the course of humankind forever – as soon as it can be made affordable that is – and yet his reaction to meeting a bunch of superheroes in a secret bunker (or cave, if you prefer), while having an on-again, off-again cold is nothing short of being flabbergasted. That Curtis isn’t striking out on his own, meeting with what otherwise might be a veritable army of angel investors knocking down the door of the humble apartment he shares with his husband, in the hopes of getting on board with the biggest Star City genius since Ray Palmer is in itself an indication of Curtis’ future trajectory. Forget his base-jumping pedigree or his ability to out parkour the parkour king, Roy Harper, in an attempt to avoid a single robot bee, Curtis Holt is Star City’s real hero, and he’s acting like he owes deference to Oliver instead of the other way around. If that’s not the sign of a guy you definitely want on your team, then I don’t know what is.
At any rate, ‘Beacon of Hope,’ along with its amusing, pun-filled humor and surprisingly light villain-of-the-week shenanigans, finds a way to give Curtis an impromptu audition as Team Arrow’s newest tech guy, while also pushing Felicity into a potentially interesting role where her do-gooder motivations extend far beyond cleaning up the streets of Star City. In essence, while the hour makes for a mostly fun “Die Hard with bees” action adventure, it’s what’s happening on the edges of the plot that prove to be most interesting. That means a significant amount of the episode’s run time is really nothing more than table setting – something the series has had enough of in this season alone – but the sheer optimism of what it’s setting up assuages concerns over whether or not those plans will come to fruition soon enough to be truly satisfying.
How the buoyancy of Felicity embarking on a quest to do greater good in the world, and Curtis’ Team Arrow audition will factor in to what the season has promised will be at least one more majorly somber moment remains to be seen, but for now both seem to act as insulation from an event that has yet to happen. And that may be the episode’s greatest strength: keeping the show’s promised turn away from the darkness of season 3 from going off course or pulling the tonal U-turn the last few episodes have threatened to do. But even though Oliver has let yet another relationship slip through his fingers on account of his lies – which Laurel pointedly takes him to task on in a low-key but important exchange – the season hasn’t seen Ollie slip into his typical shell of isolation and self-loathing. While it may not have been addressed explicitly, Oliver’s interaction with Curtis and the rest of the team in ‘Beacon of Hope’ actually serves the season’s main idea rather well.
Sure, bee puns and the Bug-Eyed bandit may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but watching Arrow drive straight forward into a scenario that might otherwise bring out its worst tendencies and then avoid them altogether (well, Oliver’s dressing down of Curtis aside), feels like a major win for a series in need of one. Moreover, the hour is an example of how good Arrow can be when the structure of its plot is so sound. Concentrating the action around repeated attempts by Oliver and his crew to get into Palmer Tech, and Felicity, Donna, and Thea’s Bruce Willis-like adventures avoiding Emily Kinney’s Brie Larvan gave the hour a sense of focus that certain installments (like last week’s Cupid-centric adventure) have lacked. Everything that happened in one story thread impacted another in ways that not only enhanced the hour, but also made the episodes ahead seem more appealing.
Even the reversal of fortune for Damien Darhk and Merlyn’s power grab – that included the return of “ace in the hole” Andy Diggle – felt in-synch with what transpired throughout the rest of the hour. An overabundance of bee puns aside; ‘Beacon of Hope’ was the sort of hour of Arrow the series could use more of. It managed to balance a typical villain plot thread while seeding some positive turns before the inevitably dark one it will take before the season is through. If anything, the hour proves Arrow can put its hero through the emotional ringer and still make an episode feel light and energetic.
Arrow continues next Wednesday with ‘Eleven-Fifty-Nine’ @8pm on The CW. Check out a preview below: