Arrow: 420 “Genesis” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
That’s more like it. Arrow has been in a bit of a creative funk ever since episode fifteen or so despite the handful of good episodes that have emerged since then, as the show has continuously failed to recover the stability and cohesiveness that made the season’s first half such an unexpected return to form. This week’s episode, Genesis is far from Arrow at its best, but it satisfyingly breathed a great deal of life back into the HIVE mythology that had stalled since the mid-season point, bringing some major storylines to their conclusion while introducing plenty of new ideas for the show to play with over the final three episodes of the season.
Genesis is an episode that’s slightly lesser than the sum of its parts, purely because the separate plotlines going on here are so different to one another, but there’s a lot to commend within each storyline nonetheless. The biggest unqualified success here is Diggle’s story, as his feud with his brother came to a surprising and bloody end. The Andy story lost a bit of its dramatic sting when Andy was parked off-screen for several episodes before assuming a hugely important position within the plot, but Genesis still makes the conclusion of this admittedly rushed story compelling and thematically relevant to Diggle’s arc. The idea made explicit here that Diggle’s character arc is the exact inverse of Oliver’s ‘journey into the light’ this year, travelling from a place of familial stability to dogmatic violence is a great one because it firms up how Arrow has succeeded in making Diggle vital to its central stories again. For all of season four’s weaknesses, it’s afforded a significantly larger amount of screen-time to David Ramsey who continues to nail every emotional beat thrown at him (his stunned, slightly terrified reaction to Andy’s death is a terrific bit of acting that convincingly sells the volatile multitude of emotions felt by Diggle at this act), re-integrating Diggle as the essential foil to Oliver that he was at the very start of the show.
It’s a testament to Arrow’s effective prioritizing of Diggle’s stories this year that Genesis is able to rely upon the culmination of a plotline pertaining specifically to him for its big emotional gut-punch, leaving Oliver’s big revelation to act more as set-up for his final battle with Damien Dahrk than a conclusion in of itself. And it’s a really effective culmination we get here – it’s the kind of bold, substantial darkness, taking a character into a place where their morality is deeply in doubt that Arrow has too often conflated with ‘dark’ brooding and moping about. Genesis builds well to this moment, studiously nudging Diggle closer and closer to pulling the trigger by chipping at his well-defined moral codes with evidence of their flaws when applied to realistic situations, breaking down Diggle’s deep-held beliefs in mercy but holding off fully justifying his actions, nestling in a satisfyingly uncertain place where the question of whether his actions are justified are more or less left up to interpretation.
Oliver’s story is, on the surface, completely divorced from Diggle’s grounded and gritty tale of vengeance, dealing with the much more heightened side of the HIVE threat with Oliver’s trip to train with an immortal shaman. The execution of Oliver’s training and conflict is, unfortunately, very rushed indeed – it’s clear Arrow wanted to cover all these story beats and bring Oliver to the place where he could finally match up to Damien in that final confrontation, but that pace of storytelling removes the ability for Genesis to explore the multitude of fascinating ideas it introduces. The shaman, for instance, is hilariously impatient with Oliver as dictated by the necessity to reach this defined end-point, so her characterisation remains distinctly one-note throughout despite the vast potential of such a character. And while the brief trip through Oliver’s traumatic memories is certainly impactful, it’s given only a cursory acknowledgement before Genesis must barrel on once more. It’s especially problematic that when the episode does get to the end-point of Oliver repelling Dahrk’s magic, it refuses to offer the inverse of that traumatic rush in order to really justify his sudden burst of power, leaving a potentially triumphant moment of catharsis feeling distinctly airless and forgettable.
The rushed execution is a problem, but dive deeper and Genesis is doing some really interesting things. Arrow appeared to lose sight of the creators’ promise that this season would feature a brighter Oliver for many episodes, but Oliver’s conflict here of needing to cast off his inner demons and embrace the light is the ideal choice for the season’s endgame. It’s a great way to make Oliver’s character arc this season of embracing the light relevant once more while linking it specifically to the Dahrk storyline, ensuring that the final showdown between the two men will serve a genuine thematic purpose rather than just providing some impressive spectacle. I mentioned above how Diggle’s story is acting as the inverse of Oliver’s, and it’s that dichotomy that alleviates a lot of the disjointedness between their two stories. Because of how both Oliver and Diggle’s stories are rooted in similar themes of redemption and the unreliability of hope yet utilise these themes in different ways, it genuinely feels like Arrow is telling two distinct halves of the same story here from different perspectives rather than two separate stories that are just crammed into the same episode. Arrow somewhat lost its focus on characters aside from Oliver as it went into last year’s endgame with a single-minded focus on Oliver’s story, so it’s good to see that it’s using the stories of other major characters in order to complement and enhance the effectiveness of that central character arc this year.
Thea’s story in Genesis is an outlier in just about every respect. It’s necessary to provide a visual confirmation of the revelations delivered about Dahrk’s plan at the end and the detached tone is arguably very much the intention, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that this is just housekeeping, slotted into the episode to impart necessary information at this time. It’s all very mechanical in how it runs through a few rote sub-Twilight Zone mysteries while conjuring up the bare minimum level of intrigue before rapidly accelerating to the climax, and it never really becomes more than mildly diverting in the brief time that it actually gets. It also can’t help but detract from the momentum of Oliver and Diggle’s stories because it’s forced to maintain a detachment from the current storyline until the very end, which just means that it feels like it’s getting in the way of the flow of the rest of the episode rather than helping it along.
I must admit that the final moment did go a long way towards justifying its premise, even if Genesis had to hold its cards to its chest for so long that the storyline spent a long time coming across as irrelevant. That final shot of the fake cornfield expanding out to the dome underground is an admirably bonkers, striking image that certainly introduces the truth behind Genesis in a memorable way, illustrating the insanely zealous extent to which Dahrk is willing to carry out his plans for a rebirth of the world. As for Genesis itself – it’s a relatively standard Bond villain plan for a villain who’s always veered in that direction, though it benefits from the fact that this is a huge escalation from any other villainous plan Arrow has featured, finally widening out the scope of the season’s endgame after three seasons penned firmly in the confines of Star City, so that’s pretty refreshing as a way to change up the usual formula.
Three episodes left until the final face-off, then, and now we know the extent of Darhk’s plan, it looks like the world itself is at stake. No pressure for Team Arrow, then…
Genesis gets season four back on track just when it needed a boost with a really strong character arc for Diggle that effectively dovetails with Oliver’s and a cliffhanger that drastically dials up the season’s scope. It’s hamstrung by rushed execution of intriguing new magical elements and a Thea story that exists solely for one final visual, lacking much substance beyond that, but this was a fun and creative episode that reinvigorated the season’s arc to a great degree.