[This is a review of Arrow season 3, episode 7. There will be SPOILERS.]
Although it seems like the perfect fodder for an episode set, say, sometime during the first two weeks of February, 'Draw Back Your Bow' puts Arrow in a place where it can pull back the curtain on the private lives of the core ensemble. With all that has been going on in the aftermath of Sara's death, it seems like every episode has been personal, and in some form or another, that's certainly true. But here the show specifically looks at the relationship between Felicity and Oliver, and whether or not the existence of the Arrow is reason enough for that connection to not be explored.
Superhero romance is its own unique brand, in that the inherent dangers of running around in a mask, doling out justice often brings a sense of pending tragedy to any relationship – especially nascent ones. To Oliver's credit, he seems to be at least tangentially aware that this is the case. And in an effort to keep those he cares about as far from harm's way as possible – which, admittedly is still well within the blast radius of any blowback the Arrow might receive – he's seemingly sworn off romantic entanglements for the time being.
Structurally speaking, this is nothing new. Building tension by turning something as intangible as apprehension of an uncertain outcome into a very real obstacle is something of a staple in the realm of the superhero. Arrow puts a little bit of a twist on things by having Oliver focus more on his seeming inability to reconcile the two halves of his identity, rather than some overwhelming fear that his nightlife is going to result in Felicity finding herself in danger more than she already has been. The negative outcome is certainly in keeping with the season's theme of identity. But the longer the burgeoning romance between the two remains on the shelf, the more the thread runs the risk of becoming tedious.
Thankfully, 'Draw Back Your Bow' addresses the notion that, try as he might, Oliver cannot remain completely removed from those he is involved with in one form or another. His alter-ego – which, in the wake of losing Queen Consolidated to Ray Palmer, has become more or less the dominant persona – exists outside the bounds of normal society, granting him the ability to see the larger picture, and better anticipate certain structural inevitabilities, without necessarily interpreting them as such. Regardless the advantages this distance from the larger circle of society offers him, Oliver can't remain there forever. He will, eventually, have to return.
The catalyst for that return is only partially related to Carrie Cutter/Cupid (Amy Gumerick), who straddles the line between frighteningly dangerous and tragically unbalanced the way more and more characters destined for Amanda Waller's Suicide Squad seem to be. The more convincing catalyst, then, is the ease with which Ray Palmer manages to step into the space Oliver once occupied, before giving himself over completely to being the Arrow. Cupid works on a thematic level, placing the notion of romance – ill conceived or not – at the forefront of the conversation, but it is Palmer's presence and increased visibility that define the episode.
That goes well beyond seeing what Ray has planned with this A.T.O.M. designs (which are, admittedly rather cool looking), and instead focuses almost entirely on what it means for Oliver's civilian persona to have been sidelined to such a degree. Whether he's conscious of it or not, Palmer has ostensibly begun the process of replacing Oliver. That process begins with changing the name of Queen Consolidated to Palmer Technologies, but it also means tending to Felicity's emotional needs. After all, he's basically Oliver without all the emotional baggage and the vigilante-related hang-ups. He may not be a superhero (yet), but that just gives Ray the ability to exert more control over the emotional side of his persona – even though it is likely to become as split as Oliver's.
The result is a classic case of the protagonist coming to the realization he can't just be one half of who he is all the time; he must find balance in his duality if either side is going to be truly successful. That means coming to terms with his feelings for Felicity (thanks to an assist from Diggle, who seems to have returned from his uncharacteristic "cut him loose" mentality he displayed last week). Naturally, that also means Oliver begins to reconcile his two halves too late – or at least he thinks it's too late when he happens across Ray and Felicity in the midst of a kiss.
The scene lends urgency to the Oliver/Felicity dynamic in a way that has been lacking – despite Oliver's kiss a few episodes back. It also goes a long way in making the weaker elements of the show, like the obnoxious DJ shoving his way into Thea's life, and the flashbacks that don't seem to have much in the way of an actual story in mind.
Where 'Draw Back Your Bow' succeeds, then, is in how it examines the ways the interpersonal dynamics of Team Arrow can be complex, complicated, and endearing all the same time. The closing moments of the episode go a long way in establishing the relationship between Oliver and Roy, and, certainly, Oliver and Diggle. While Diggle is often the moral core of the group, he's also the only member of the team with considerable familial responsibilities. Seeing him and Lyla take on a parental persona by welcoming the two "outsiders" into their home not only strengthens the suggestion that Oliver is considering a return to what he left behind, but that there will be a family waiting for him when he does.
Arrow returns on Wednesday, December 3 with 'The Brave and the Bold' @8pm on The CW. Check out a preview below: