Arrow: 421 “Monument Point” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
Befitting of the souped-up scale of the standard villainous plan this time around, Arrow’s endgame this season seems to be going full steam ahead. Last week’s episode was crammed to bursting with major developments and pivotal character moments, and this week’s episode only cranked up the rapidity at which Arrow is burning through plot right now. That’s a choice that’s both to the detriment and benefit of Monument Point, creating an episode that’s enormously overstuffed with familiar faces, big conflicts and action yet somehow manages to outrun the risk of collapsing under its own weight for almost the entire runtime.
There’s a madcap, runaway train quality to Monument Point – its outsize ambition might mean that it falls short of some of its goals, but as with last week, it’s simply a whole lot more fun to see a freewheeling, creative Arrow revelling in the insanity of the stories it’s telling. There’s a real intensity that pervades throughout the entire episode as the Genesis clock slowly ticks down to zero created by the sheer pile-up of characters and obstacles to Team Arrow’s success, ensuring that despite Arrow’s (presumably for justifiable budgetary/timing reasons) inability to really delve into the ramifications of this global nuclear scenario, the impending threat of the nuclear missiles feels consistently tangible and urgent.
This is certainly one of the most flat-out entertaining episodes that Arrow has put out in a while, purely because so much is happening at any given moment that it’s often hard not to get swept up in the drive forward. Perhaps the most notable beneficiary of this is Dahrk’s plan itself – Genesis, on paper, is a completely ridiculous plan that’s enormously out of sync with the kind of intimate, local scale that Arrow has made its signature, and to exacerbate these issues it’s notably similar in concept to Malcolm’s season one endgame plan, a rehashing that I’d only briefly noticed before the episode itself flags it up. It’s not a hugely well thought-out idea, truth be told, and I can see Arrow hitting a wall when it really has to explore Dahrk’s reasoning for Genesis in depth in the final couple of the episodes. All Monument Point has to do, however, is illustrate the oncoming threat of the nuclear missiles rather than the minutiae of the logistics or ideology behind it, so it’s able to skirt over those issues and render them relatively insignificant concerns in the mad rush to the launch of the nukes. It’s not hugely sustainable storytelling because Arrow will have to really deal with Genesis at some point, but taken on its own, the ridiculousness of this idea barely affected the entertainment value of this episode.
However, it’s worth noting the flipside of this atypically urgent pace. Monument Point does get to dedicate its time to a couple of major character conflicts that it does relatively well, but it perhaps bits off more than it can chew by introducing storylines that it simply doesn’t have the time to satisfyingly and wholeheartedly explore. Diggle’s lying to his wife about the circumstances of Andy’s death and Donna and Lance’s brief argument over the affidavit regarding Laurel are both prime casualties of this inability to dedicate the necessary time to explore the emotional nuances of these theoretically compelling (well, perhaps not Donna and Lance, but we can hope) storylines. The episode only has time to paint the very broad strokes, so Monument Point instead delivers mere outlines of character stories that fail to register that are given two or three brief scenes to begin, develop and conclude. Arrow clearly has a lot on its plate with wrapping up all of its character arcs that have been weaved throughout the season, but Monument Point’s handling of a few of these stories was messy and ultimately unrewarding because it took on a far greater load of character development that it had time for, and subsequently had to cut some major corners in order to make everything fit.
The character stories that do register mainly pivot around unconventional fathers and their tumultuous relationships with their children, as presented through Noah and Malcolm. Monument Point hardly reinvents the wheel with its thematic exploration of heightened, strained father-daughter relationships, but it’s a satisfying expansion of the material Arrow covered with these characters earlier in the season nonetheless. That’s especially the case with Noah and Felicity’s story, which takes the bare-bones of the conflict as laid out in their brief meeting several episode back and layers on intriguing nuances and complications to their relationship. Monument Point adds a considerable amount of clarity to Noah’s failings as a father beyond simply being a criminal by explicitly linking his failed duplicity to Oliver’s own collapsed double life, hinting that, much like Oliver, Noah’s hubristic belief he could juggle two drastically different lives led to both of his lives collapsing in on themselves with his arrest and estrangement from his daughter. That’s some thematically rich, smart storytelling that not only adds a considerable amount of vulnerability to Noah’s character, but it also links efficiently into the season’s themes of finding a way into the light from the darkness and ill-advised errors of before, ensuring that Noah and Felicity’s strained relationship feels like it’s genuinely important and beneficial to the season as a whole rather than the gratuitous, crowbarred story it perhaps appeared to be on first sight.
By contrast, Malcolm’s conflict with Thea is simpler, and generally reminiscent of their overall struggle ever since Thea finally stopped believing in his lies, but it’s enjoyable to see Malcolm’s bafflingly crazy paternalism when applied to an apocalyptic situation such as Genesis, illustrating just how completely misguided Malcolm is in his efforts to cast himself as the selfless, misunderstood protector of a daughter who will never truly understand his complex reasoning. It’s the more extreme version of Felicity and Noah’s conflict, taking Noah’s arrogance and shameless criminality and dialling it up to eleven, so it works both as a bizarre, twisted reflection of that relatively grounded plotline and an extension of how blinkered and immoveable Malcolm is in his beliefs about fatherhood in quite literally any situation.
Thea’s story, meanwhile, is somewhat less successful, though not because of a lack of screen-time. Instead, it’s the re-entrance of Anarky as a villain that really hampers her storyline. In his past two appearances, Anarky has stubbornly failed to work as a bad guy, graduating from bland identikit villain of the week to generic psychopath with a consistent sense that Arrow doesn’t know quite what to do with him. Like his last appearance, Anarky feels crammed in to make up the numbers, and despite his significant advice to Thea and murder of her relatively forgettable boyfriend, Monument Point fails to really justify his appearance as anything other than a means to give Thea something to do rather than simply chat with Malcolm in the Genesis bio-dome. His motivations remain sloppy and nebulous, and the ‘special connection’ that Monument Point takes pains to stress as important feels completely arbitrary because neither of his past two appearances have really justified a total obsession with Thea, once again creating the sense that Anarky is a pinball of a character who’s thrown into a situation to create a bit of chaos that brings about an event with very little regard for cohesive motivations or distinctive characterisation beyond ‘vaguely camp psycho with a grudge’.
I don’t typically mention Arrow’s fight scenes, partially because they’ve become relatively humdrum for the most part in recent seasons, but they were certainly part and parcel of what made Monument Point so entertaining despite the myriad aforementioned flaws. Director Kevin Tanchareon (who’s directed episodes of The Flash and Agents of SHIELD) added a real flair and style to the action sequences that felt more ornate and thoughtfully planned out, effectively juxtaposing Oliver’s nimble, quick fighting style with the brutal, blunt-instrument style of Brick in their two fight scenes, livening up the action set-pieces to a considerable degree to the point where they really felt like a engaging and playful highlight of the episode.
After counting down to the launch of the Genesis nukes all episode, Monument Point made a big swing with the tragic diverting of the nuke to a small American town by Felicity, killing tens of thousands of casualties. This is a complicated twist to discuss, because on one level it’s easy to congratulate the show for really committing to the higher-stakes, impactful storytelling and bringing about some genuinely huge consequences – it would have been all too easy to feint and have the nukes miss, so there’s certainly an element of impressive bravado in this twist. However, Monument Point flubs its chance at delivering a genuinely memorable, tragic turning point by barely giving the moment a chance to breathe – after a few quick lines of dialogue, the episode hyperactively hops over to City Hall with the big cliffhanger of Dahrk’s power having presumably increased tenfold. The dropping of a nuke upon American soil is a huge deal not only for the characters, especially Felicity, but for this DC world as a whole, and while the consequences of this twist on a political and character level will almost certainly play out for many episodes to come, it’s such a massive moment for this show’s world that the choice to almost palm it off in favour of the cliffhanger feels ill-advised and callous. It’s the point where Monument Point’s inability to really slow down and pensively let the impact of everything sink in comes back to bite it, because it creates a deeply odd conclusion that tries to one-up a moment that pretty much cannot be one-upped in terms of significance in its final moments. We’ll see how Arrow chooses to handle the fallout of this moment next week, and that fallout may be compellingly and thoroughly explored, but for the time being this was extremely sloppy storytelling that entirely misjudged the significance of the nuke as a plot twist, letting down the episode as a whole in the process.
Monument Point is undoubtedly a lot of fun, moving at an impressive clip while registering some solid character beats in the process on the way to an intense and entertaining final act. It’s that fun and intensity that alleviates the numerous flaws lurking beneath the surface such as the messy usage of Anarky and a couple of thinly sketched character conflicts, though the choice to race past the nuking of an entire town at the end is certainly damaging to the episode’s quality as a whole.