Arrow: 422 “Lost in the Flood” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
We’re down to the wire with Arrow’s fourth season now, and after a mid-season string of uneven, inconsistent and often meandering episodes, Arrow has found a great deal more focus in the last couple of episodes, powering through plot at a pace that’s helped to paper over the frequently shaky storytelling to some degree. This week’s penultimate episode, Lost in the Flood, continued on that rapid trajectory to the final showdown with Damien Dahrk and provided some really great action to keep the adrenaline up, but found itself marred by extraneous subplots and badly timed drama in a way, leading to a somewhat haphazard and intermittent lead-in to the season finale.
Off the bat, it’s worth noting a chief slip-up that Lost in the Flood makes with its handling of last week’s big nuking of a small town. That was a weirdly handled moment even within the last few minutes of Monument Point, but I assumed that Arrow simply needed that Dahrk cliffhanger and would move back to dealing with the major fallout this time. Unfortunately, Lost in the Flood completely skips past it, giving the nuke the slightest of lip service before actively pushing it aside, probably never to be dealt with meaningfully again. That’s not a particularly good look for Arrow: for one, it’s hopelessly sloppy storytelling, with Arrow doubling down on its tone-deaf misunderstanding of the rabbit hole that the nuking of an American town with a Russian missile and the death of tens of thousands opens up. Last week, it looked like ballsy storytelling for a few moments; Arrow really committing to a pyrrhic victory for Felicity and co in a way that was meaningfully dark, opening itself up to complex questions of the morality of Team Arrow’s actions and the question of weighing up lives against others. This week, it turns out to be a load of hot air, which feels emotionally manipulative and callous, using the nuke visual to gain a cheap shock with no willingness to engage with anything the event entailed in its aftermath. Even if Arrow returns to the nuke later on to explore the new status quo, this was the ideal opportunity to really zoom in on the kind of after-effects of the most destructive event that we’ve seen in this DC universe yet, so to skip over it entirely is extremely disappointing.
Moving on from that fiasco, the spine of Lost in the Flood dealt with Oliver and Diggle’s trip into Dahrk’s Genesis ark, a storyline that yields mixed but generally decent results. If there’s one thing to unequivocally praise here, it’s the action: the stunt team and director Glen Winter seem reinvigorated by the atypical bright daylight of the Ark, staging a memorably kinetic action scene as Oliver and Diggle chase after Thea while running from Ghosts themselves. If some of the action scenes this year have felt overly choreographed and sapped of their naturalistic excitement through clearly meticulous preparation, then this was the antidote – a fast and furious (ahem) chase scene that had an unpredictability and vitality that was present last week but has rarely cropped up elsewhere.
And there’s definite merit in what Lost in the Flood tries to do thematically as Oliver’s character arc for this year drew to a close. The skeleton of the idea that Star City’s citizens have lost hope, losing faith in the messages that Oliver and co have been espousing and instead turning to Damien Dahrk for their own dose of slightly more nihilistic hope amidst a city that they believe has descended into senselessness and ugly, futile violence. That’s fascinating stuff, and on one level I’m glad Arrow’s chosen to go this complex and multi-faceted by explicitly critiquing and even undermining Oliver’s status as the bringer of hope to Star City, particularly at this point in the season, because it’s simple, solid meat-and-potatoes hero’s journey stuff; bringing a hero to his darkest moment just before a breakthrough and ultimate triumph in the finale.
Unfortunately, Lost in the Flood undermines these great ideas through its execution. The usage of the typical family as the stand-in for the cynical Star City fails to work because it feels inherently contrived – losing faith in the hopeful leaders and vigilantes of the city is understandable, but Arrow wants the viewer to take the logical leap from there to illustrate that this loss in faith has left a perfectly normal suburban family to decide that the incineration of 99% of Earth’s population in a nuclear fire is the obvious, logical choice. That’s obviously, a ridiculouse false dichotomy that dulls the nuance of the ideas that Arrow is presenting through how comically black-and-white the whole ‘believe in hope or believe in nukes’ thing is. Most of all, though, Arrow limits itself from exploring its themes because it fails to explore them through realistic characters – they simply come across as mouthpieces for Dahrk’s nihilistic ideology, losing the sense of being a group of average, ordinary folk that should be present here due to the unrealistic extremity of their loss of faith. The family are important here because they represent Arrow’s effort to add texture and character to Star City as a unitary place, but to do so it has to feel like a living, breathing city, not one which is populated by complete nutjobs masquerading as normal humans. The lack of realism with which the citizens of Star City are presented means that Arrow’s inevitable ‘back from the brink’ moment where everyone reaffirms their belief in hope in the finale (if this doesn’t happen, dear reader, please leave plenty of comments) is launching from shaky foundations, because Star City simply fails to feel like a place here that actually sustains a culture and a populace when we’re not seeing it on-screen.
The other elements thrown into the mix down under were somewhat more successful than that particularly clumsy moment of thematic exploration. Thea’s brainwashing and subsequent recovery was inoffensively humdrum, but it was Anarky, surprisingly, who really clicked for me here. The success of his portrayal rests in the fact that Arrow finally finds a solid place for him: as a bringer of (ahem) anarchy; a rogue element to ping off other storylines and send perfectly orderly schemes into chaos through his machinations (Machin-ations). Somewhat paradoxically, there’s a neat and logical order to how Lost in the Flood utilises Anarky, sparingly keeping him off screen to allow Oliver and Diggle’s hint for Thea to be more streamlined and efficient before allowing him to royally screw everything up in time for the big finale. There’s a real utility to bringing a third party into the mix, because it allows a relatively formulaic and somewhat staid Team Arrow vs. crazy villain storyline a certain amount of unpredictability on its inevitable way to the preordained showdown in the season finale. Moments such as Machin’s kidnapping of Dahrk’s family allow things to spin satisfyingly out of control, ensuring that the inevitable path from A to B is a little more fun – and, for once, his vague characterisation works in Arrow’s favour because it means his motivations are sufficiently opaque enough for it to be genuinely uncertain as to what he’ll do at any given moment. However, I could really have done without his murder of Ruve at the end – it’s handled pretty cursorily for a character who’s gradually assumed a relatively important role in the villainous pecking order, and on a basic level, it’s textbook fridging of a woman in order to make Damien Dahrk a bit angrier than he was before, a lazy usage of ineffective clichés that Arrow usually rises above.
Amidst the chaos and excitement down in the dome, it’s somewhat strange to note that the events up top are heavily skewed towards family drama, in this case between Donna and Noah, Felicity’s parents. There was a legitimate need to address the elephant in the room given how prominent Donna’s become (somewhat unjustifiably, arguably, but hey), but this was perhaps not the greatest timing for a major bout of Smoak family disputes. It’s clear how much the drama actively gets in the way of the propulsion of the fight against Dahrk, actively dragging characters into squabbles in the midst of conflicts, heavily impeding the episode’s momentum and creating a dissonance between the major, world-ending conflicts with Dahrk and disputes that, at this very moment in time, feel distinctly petty. It’s particularly frustrating given that, for the most part, the drama is sparse and barren in how it provides insights into these characters – for the most part, it’s Donna or Noah saying exactly the kind of thing you’d expect them to say followed by the other replying with a pseudo-witty retort, rinse and repeat, which means on top of the poor timing, Lost in the Flood doesn’t tell us much new about these characters even with the time it dedicates to them. For a great deal of the time, it’s pretty much just bickering, the least compelling form of conflict for a show like this as the conversation never leads anywhere new. The few nuggets of insights and breakthroughs we do get are interesting enough: I like how it was Donna who left Noah and not the other way around, enhancing the intriguing idea of Noah as a father who does care but is simply inadequate in turning his vague affection into genuine action, and it’s good to see Arrow committing to not redeeming Noah. It feels true to his smarmy, opportunistic persona as it’s been presented that he couldn’t sacrifice his pride to apologise, and it leaves the door open for an interesting re-entry at some point. Generally, however, the Smoak family drama is thin gruel, with its problems exacerbated by poor timing that greatly affects the pace and momentum of the episode.
Despite it all, I am generally looking forward to the season finale next week and the final showdown it’ll bring. Damien Dahrk’s always been a solid villain and there’s some real scope for some exciting visuals and action sequences now that his powers have been beefed up. There’s also a lot of intrigue surrounding just what the Schism of the finale’s title will be – if it refers to a schism in Team Arrow’s dynamics, that might just be the shake-up Arrow needs to refresh itself going into season five. Time will tell…
Lost in the Flood is a muddled penultimate episode. It has great action, makes good use of Anarky and has some fascinating ideas that it’s simply unable to turn into anything thematically compelling in execution. The badly timed Smoak family drama and the ignominious ignorance of the nuke from last week compound for these issues, making for a lead-in that’s somewhat enjoyable but heavily flawed.
Flashbacks: I haven’t talked about this year’s flashbacks in these reviews for a long time, and they’ve long since stopped affecting my judgement of any given episode. Suffice to say, the flashbacks have devolved from a promising start into embarrassing direct-to-DVD nonsense that’s action-packed yet moves at the pace of a glacier, circling around the same conflict with the same boring cipher of a villain ad infinitum. It’s all laden with the distinct sense that everyone is beyond caring at this point including the writers, a definite mark against the continued existence of any kind of flashbacks beyond season five. Hey, at least this week’s episode substituted repetitive running around caves forever for repetitive running around the woods!