[This is a review of Arrow season 4, Episode 6. There will be SPOILERS.]
Like its sister show, The Flash, Arrow relies heavily on the ensemble that has been built around the titular superhero. After all, it wouldn't be much fun if the hero of either show didn't have anyone to talk to, to celebrate their victories with or help console, support, and encourage them in moments of defeat. It would also make their heroics less meaningful if, when it comes time to hang up the mask at the end of the day (or night), there was no one there to help round the character out in a way that went beyond their super heroics. And thankfully, both shows have constructed a fairly strong supporting cast of characters, many of whom help define their respective shows in ways the eponymous hero could not on his own.
The term "Team Arrow" has been thrown around since the early days of the series, and has even been adopted by the show itself, suggesting that Arrow, despite the singular name by which it is known is really more of a team show. And that helps, especially when episodes like 'Lost Souls' come around, and are packed with returning characters – both dead and presumed dead – to the point of bursting.
After what little attention was paid to Sara following the restoration of her soul in a quickie appearance by John Constantine last week, it almost seems negligent to begin work on bringing Ray Palmer back into the fold. A fact that is worsened by the need to focus on Oliver and Felicity's ongoing romance, by way of Donna Smoak's (Charlotte Ross) arrival in Star City on an invitation from Oliver. In other words, Arrow's slapdash renewal of Sara suggests that while the series has been managing the various irons it has in the fire – developing its own season-long plot line and doing its part in constructing the Legends of Tomorrow cast – the addition of yet another iron can feel as though there's just too much to tend to. And that's even when one of the irons has been miniaturized and placed in a glass cage with no bathroom and a tiny camera watching his every move.
Both the resurrection of Sara and the sort-of resurrection of Ray serve a larger purpose, one that may eventually be paid off in a more substantial way when the two are headlining their own show. Arrow understands that its approach to these characters is perfunctory to a degree; it is the Big Bang meant to facilitate the expansion of a greater universe, and so, in a sense, it can write off the characters getting short shrift because it knows this isn't necessarily the place where they will be developed.
As such, the handling of both Sara and Ray throughout the hour comes away with mixed results. On one hand, major scenes with potentially massive emotional ramifications are left off screen. Last week, Sara got her soul back, but her reunion with her sister and father was largely handled via Laurel's exposition – which is only slightly better than Sara telling her mother she's no longer dead over a phone call. What, nobody has FaceTime in the Lance household? This week, Felicity does everything in her power to bring Ray back to… uh, size, remarking several times during the hour how guilty she felt losing herself in Oliver, when she could have been saving Ray sooner. And yet, when Ray is finally saved, the very necessary discussion between the two of them occurs entirely off screen.
Both instances of off screen dialogues feel like missed opportunities to explore the emotional developments of having a loved-one returned from what once was the absolute finality of death. To be fair, Sara does get a chance to have that missing discussion with Laurel and Thea before her abrupt exit, but the scene doesn't really come together in a way that feels entirely genuine. Sara referring to being brought back from the dead as "a gift" and a "second chance" may be accurate in terms of what actually happened, but her words fail to appropriately convey the gravity of the situation, which is also something Arrow has struggled with as a show since the event occurred.
And while the show's inability to communicate the magnitude of turning a rotting corpse into a living, breathing human woman again is unfortunate, there is something charming about the idea that these characters would themselves be inarticulate when it comes to expressing gratitude for being brought back to life, or, in Ray's case, freed from being a paperweight on Damien Darhk's desk. Sara fumbling for words while struggling with the bloodlust that is a side effect of the Pit makes sense, it defines the character as someone who typically solves things with her fists, so when confronted with an emotional situation, compounded by elements she doesn't understand, her instinct is to retreat. Meanwhile, Ray has spent numerous weeks in a state of miniaturization and was held captive by the season's Big Bad, and yet one of the first things he says to Oliver is a compliment on Green Arrow's new costume. Like Sara's retreat, Ray's excitement at someone else's new clothes speaks volumes about who he is as a person.
These elements don't entirely excuse the absence of Felicity and Ray addressing what just transpired or their complicated history and feelings for one another, but they do at least perform a function for Sara and Ray beyond merely funneling them towards Legends of Tomorrow. Suitably, then, 'Lost Souls' manages to place appropriate emphasis on Felicity and Oliver's relationship, putting it through a test that, frankly, seems to take Oliver by surprise.
That actually works out to be a terrific element for the epsiode, as it puts both Felicity and Oliver in positions they haven't been seen in before. Felicity's questioning whether or not she wants to "lose herself" in the relationship works as a logical extension of her new role as CEO of Palmer Technologies. The character has greater independence and authority and with that comes a natural need to explore these new aspects of her identity – one that she feels would not have accepted Ray's death as easily had she not been selfishly falling in love with Oliver.
At the same time, Oliver finds himself on the defensive, wondering where it is that he went wrong and seeing how differently he and Felicity feel about the relationship they are both in. It goes to show how individual perceptions can alter the dynamic of a relationship in startling ways, and Arrow nails the emotional equivalent of having the rug pulled out from under you by focusing on Oliver's confusion and doubt. Stephen Amell does some nice, subtle work depicting Oliver getting knocked for a romantic loop, before he and the show make the situation relatable by demonstrating the only thing that can be done in such a situation: Drink some booze with your best friend and wonder what the hell is going on.
The strength of the interplay between Oliver and Diggle speaks to the efficacy of the show's ensemble cast. It also demonstrates that Arrow is capable of turning a quiet moment between two characters into something substantial, which unfortunately further underlines the absence of certain should-have-been key moments. Still, for an episode that has to balance building another show with the needs of its own characters, 'Lost Souls' makes the right choice in focusing on Felicity and Oliver.
Arrow continues next Wednesday with 'Brotherhood' @8pm on The CW. Check out a preview below: