[This is a review of Arrow season 4, episode 16. There will be SPOILERS.]
Arrow may have just featured the most low-key breakup of a major relationship in television history. After Felicity was informed of William's existence by Damien Dahrk – in what may have been his dastardliest move since doing away with members of Star City's government – there was no doubt her relationship with Oliver was bound to be on shaky ground. And as the series prepared for a short hiatus, it left audiences with a parting shot of Felicity walking out on her former fiancé, as he was once again called to task for his lying ways. The kicker being, of course, that Felicity was now walking again (thanks to Curtis' Terrific Technology that no one seems to be talking about), making her imminent departure feel even more like an epic mic drop.
But as the series returns and picks up with Felicity packing her things and being oddly chipper about it, there's the sense that neither she nor Oliver are processing the apparent dissolution of their relationship very well. While it makes for a somewhat odd opening sequence where the characters seem completely incapable of processing what's going on, that actually works to the episode's advantage, as it helps convey the extent to which both Felicity and Oliver are a little dumbstruck by their own situation and are perhaps unaware how exactly to move forward. The awkward, overly congenial exchange between the two is maybe one of the better examples of how much more comfortable these characters are wearing masks than, say, being completely vulnerable in front of someone they profess to love. This is true even for Felicity, who doesn't wear a mask (unless her glasses count) but is around mask-wearers enough that she's clearly picked up a thing or two about the virtue of concealment.
All this hiding of true emotions, desires, and intentions actually creates a subtle level of tension that sort of works, but sort of doesn't given the circumstances of what's actually unfolding during 'Broken Hearts.' It's a risk to play the breakup of Olicity with so little passion, as it puts the onus of conveying sentiment on the week's guest-star villain, Cupid (Amy Gumenick), who manages to blow right past any of the subtlety that Rickards or Amell are attempting to covey with their path-of-least-resistance performances. The result, then, is a sometimes wishy-washy hour of television where Felicity's need to distance herself from Oliver and his island-born inclination for dishonesty only comes through during the monologue she delivers in the episode's closing moments. Add this to the fact that 'Broken Hearts' is also partly a courtroom drama in which the prosecution of Kenneth Bender (née Damien Darhk) stumbles so badly before the trial has even begun that it uses the trump card it had in Capt. Lance in pre-trial. It would seem while Darhk has seemingly lost his magical powers, his lawyer still has them in spades.
Darhk's pre-trial helps move things along in terms of his plotline, as he seems to have something in store for Star City despite being remanded to jail while waiting for his day in court. It's a little odd to see Arrow spend so much time in a courtroom, but the effect of it helps pay off the thread established earlier in the season wherein Oliver wanted to confront Darhk in the light of day, and for justice to be served through conventional means, not dished out by a group of vigilantes. There are questions to the efficacy of this episode pulling on a thread that had gone slack before the winter hiatus, but it's still nice to see, as Arrow pushes toward the finale, attention being paid to what might be considered the main theme or idea running through season 4, especially as it pertains to the narrative tonic alleviating the lingering effects of season 3's hangover.
Of course, the greatest threat to Oliver's interest in fighting darkness in the light of day is his losing Felicity. Although it serves as the central element of the hour, the termination of his and Felicity's relationship seems to be a mild bump in the road for the rest of Team Arrow, as Diggle tells Oliver to give it time, while Laurel and Thea barely acknowledge it at all. Herein lies the question of expectation when a fictional relationship hits a rough patch and a series threatens to alter what has become the accepted status quo. And for all the questions that Felicity's speech to Cupid and her teary-eyed response to Oliver's too-little-too-late vows raise with regard to whether or not this is really the end of their relationship, the forward-thinking approach to the question of the couple's union is such that it saps all the energy from what should have been a more animated exchange.
There is certainly something to be said for playing against expectations and delivering an understated account of two central characters upending their lives because one of them can't stop lying, and for the most part Amell wears the knowledge of Oliver's transgressions well. But even as Arrow ends the hour with Felicity walking out on Oliver for the second time in a row, her actions feel too light, too temporary. This may be one of those cases where, as time moves on the impact of this situation will be felt to a greater degree, and hopefully it will; but retroactively energizing the emotionally lethargic actions of Oliver and Felicity won't necessarily make 'Broken Hearts' a more compelling hour of television.
Arrow continues next Wednesday with 'Beacon of Hope' @8pm on The CW. Check out a preview below: