Arrow: 417 “Beacon of Hope” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
It’s been a very fun week for DC’s superhero shows. We’ve had the irresistibly charming Supergirl/Flash crossover, a great time-travel Flash episode and an impressively pacy and sweeping return for Legends of Tomorrow (but more on that one, ahem, tomorrow) – but, coming off the back of last week’s heavy and emotionally bleak episode, it didn’t look like Arrow was going to be a particularly fun instalment…
… I’m happy to report that I was wrong. Beacon of Hope is the lightest episode in ages tonally, and while it’s relatively inconsequential and brings back a particularly lame villain from The Flash, it was an unusually breezy and zippy episode to tide us over until next week’s game-changer. The premise here was certainly one of the silliest that Arrow has ever cooked up, but Beacon of Hope worked because it really leaned into the absurdity of it all, using Curtis and Lance as our audience surrogates to cheerily point out how ridiculous their situation was. The Flash’s take on this idea stumbled because it came in the midst of dark and weighty revelations about Wells which Barry was struggling about, but Beacon of Hope manages to compartmentalise the current emotional trauma that Oliver and Felicity are going through in order to ensure that the wacky fun generally stayed intact and consistent (at least until the end) with the more emotional material playing out adjacent to the bee antics instead of getting in the way.
The lighter tone here can be very much applied to the introduction of Curtis into Team Arrow. Curtis has always been a very enjoyable character – more or less a male version of Felicity cerca season one – so his inclusion into the main storyline this week is predictably entertaining, with his incredulous and delighted reactions to everything he’s seeing providing ample comedic material that almost all works. It’s an example of how the Team Arrow scenes can pick up with a fresh perspective in the mix to comment on things that have become completely normal to both the team and the audience, and it’s also notable how Curtis’ presence seems to add a bit more pep to the other members of Team Arrow here. Laurel, who’s been egregiously sidelined to window dressing status for vast swathes of this season, finally gets some substantial dialogue scenes with Oliver, and it’s notable how these scenes generally have a satisfying and rewarding outcome when compared to last week’s big emotional dialogues, in which everything seemed in service of producing more tedious, brooding angst. There’s a sense that Oliver and Laurel are really listening to each other and taking their ideas on board, a benefit of the fact that their relationship is steeped in romantic history going all the way back to the pilot. And even Captain Lance gets a handful of really great lines as the bemused bystander to events far stranger than he can comprehend, with Paul Blackthorne displaying some excellent comedic timing to match his already established dramatic chops. In short, a week before we find out who’s in the grave, Team Arrow is becoming more well-rounded and entertaining to watch across the board… which I’m not sure should be termed good timing.
The Oliver/Felicity drama continuing on from last week is handled surprisingly well – not solely because it plays a greatly reduced part in the episode (this definitely a ‘less is more’ case), but also because they’re separated for the episode while they fight for their lives, which means they have to work through their own issues without each other. I’ve already highlighted Oliver’s scenes with Laurel, which are oddly far better-written than those with Felicity, but on Felicity’s side of things, she gets some genuinely good scenes with Thea in which the writers make a very reasonable case as to why Felicity has left Oliver and Team Arrow behind. It’s reasoning that’s understandable, and completely consistent with what we’ve seen from Felicity’s character to date, which takes a lot of the sting off last week’s contrived and artificial writing to push the relationship over the edge. And, perhaps most importantly, Felicity’s decision to leave actually stuck here, even though the episode does flirt with the idea of her return to Team Arrow at numerous points. I’ll admit that I was feeling pretty cynical about her decision actually being a long-term thing when it occurred last week, but Beacon of Hope has given some encouraging indicators that Oliver and Felicity’s break-up will have genuine consequences for the dynamic of the show that last far beyond just one episode – this is undoubtedly a great thing regardless of people’s feelings on Felicity because it shows a willingness from Arrow to commit to its twists. If next week’s big death pushes Felicity back into Team Arrow in an instant, I’ll happily eat my words – but hey, at least it lasted longer than an episode.
What didn’t really work here was Brie Larvan herself. Her portrayal is a step up from The Flash, partially because her motivation this time around is simpler and more empathetic – she has a tumour in her spine and wants to avoid paralysation while taking revenge on Felicity for her imprisonment last year. It’s clean, logical, and adds a certain level of pathos to Brie to the point where she’s, if not sympathetic, than at least humanised to some degree. However, this motivation has its own problem – it’s a classically tragic motive, which seems an odd fit for a villain who controls killer robot bees and has seemingly discovered a new-found passion for cringeworthy puns. Arrow seems to want to have its cake and eat it here, but Brie’s deeply silly and tragic sides don’t really mesh all that well, creating a sense of tonal dissonance within the final act of the episode as Beacon of Hope struggles to reconcile camp comic-book villainy with pathos-ridden tragedy. I’m happy to see a version of Arrow that’s similar in tone to Flash as a one-off, and the usual dark tone works just fine, but this episode would have been more effective if Beacon of Hope had committed to one tone and stuck to its guns throughout the episode.
Alongside this fun, wacky standalone action, Beacon of Hope nudged pieces into place in the season’s main story arc for next episode’s fireworks. Dahrk’s travails in prison are entertaining enough, allowing Neal McDonough to finally resurrect his enjoyably sadistic line delivery after a week of silence last episode. I’m intrigued by the indicators that HIVE as an organisation (now represented by Malcolm) is leaving Dahrk behind, which seems to be leading to a splintering of threats that could form the basis of an endgame that finally breaks the tired formula of a single villainous attack on Star City. What seems less exciting than the brewing civil war within HIVE is Beacon of Hope’s final twist, presented as a huge and shocking cliffhanger… except it’s really not. Perhaps the reveal that Andy Diggle is still working for HIVE would have worked if he’d actually appeared throughout the last few episodes, establishing his presence as a trustworthy and important figure in Diggle’s family life. However, since he disappeared after his big spotlight episode a good six weeks ago, there’s very little reason to care that he’s not quite as reformed as Diggle might suspect, as Arrow simply hasn’t laid nearly enough emotional groundwork in recent weeks to make a revelation like this shocking and thought-provoking. It’s a completely competent cliffhanger, but it’s a pity to see Arrow waste an episode ending on a reveal that fizzles on arrival.
If this week’s episode was inconsequential on the whole, then it seems to have just been the calm before the storm. Next week’s episode, by the looks of the trailers, will finally answer the mystery that’s been plaguing fans since episode one – who’s in the mystery grave? Who will die, and will it be a member of Team Arrow?
Beacon of Hope is an entertaining hour of television with good, solid character development and an increased level of energy as the entire cast seem galvanised by the lighter tone. It falters with tonal issues concerning the villain and flubs the cliffhanger on a meaningless reveal, but this was certainly a substantial step up from last week’s clunker and a good stopgap until next week’s big episode.