This week’s Arrow takes a brief respite from its ultra-serialized format to tell a more stand-alone story. The story in question mostly centers around Diggle, which leaves Oliver and his hooded alter ego more on the periphery. In fact, the only time Oliver even appears in his “Arrow” regalia is during a brief fight in the episode’s first act.
It’s this fight where Diggle is abducted and interrogated by Amanda Waller (cue fanboy squeal). He learns from her that Lyla Michaels, his ex-wife/war buddy, attempted to break into a notorious Moscow prison in an attempt to track Floyd Lawton (a.k.a. Deadshot, returning from season one) but ended up trapped inside as a result.
Though Diggle insists on going to retrieve her alone, Oliver and Felicity do not give him the option. Also along for the trip is Isabel Rochev. Needless to say, the stern businesswoman is not happy that Oliver is flying to a “business venture” without her knowledge and straps herself in right beside them.
Once in Russia, the trio, with the help of Oliver’s old Mafia connection, arranges to have Diggle arrested by the authorities so that he can infiltrate the designated prison. Once inside, Diggle finds himself forced to work alongside Deadshot in order to locate Lyla and escape. Oliver, meanwhile, attempts to thaw his tense relationship with Isabel via alcohol and stimulating conversation about their damaged lives—add in the fact that both are incredibly attractive and you can guess where this leads. Their dalliance hits Felicity particular hard, as she’s unable to hide her hurt and jealously from Oliver any longer.
“Keep Your Enemies Closer” bears the unfortunate task of following the one-two punch of “The Crucible” and “League of Assassins”—two of the best episodes the show has produced so far. The fact that this installment moves a bit away from those episode’s driving arc—flashbacks excluded—certainly help its case. Yet, the shadow of the past two weeks can’t help but overpower this hour.
That being said, I’m always in the mood for a great prison escape plotline, and Arrow does not disappoint. Despite its limited budget, the show manages to establish a great seedy atmosphere for the prison as well as construct some dynamite action set pieces. Diggle’s prison fight around the episode’s mid-point definitely helps demonstrate actor David Ramsey’s physicality, which we haven’t seen much of this season.
Although he’s sidelined this episode, Stephen Amell nevertheless gets some great moments and one-liners. My favorite involves a confrontation between him and several Russian Mafia members. After the two have a tense (and un-subtitled) stand-off in Russian, Oliver delivers a lengthy speech that makes the team shrink away. When asked by Felicity what exactly was said, he answers with a smile: “Please.”
But let’s discuss that Oliver and Felicity’s relationship. As of now, I don’t know where to stand on the sudden reveal that she’s has been nursing serious affection towards Oliver. Obviously, Stephen Amell stands as quite the ideal specimen of a man, but, aside from a few awkward comedic beats where she pointed out his general attractiveness, Felicity has never really shown any signs of affection prior to this point. (Then again, I am a guy and tend not to pick up on these things.) In a season that’s already chock-full of mythology and relationship issues alike, throwing in this curveball feels more like a shorthand attempt to give a little depth to Felicity’s character beyond merely being the nerdy and awkward (though still model-worthy) computer whiz.
Speaking of “awkward,” there’s the subplot involving Thea and Roy. After being confronted by her mother’s lawyer and told that continuing a relationship with a troublemaker like Roy would damage her mother’s chance in court, Thea attempts to put some distance between her and the future Speedy. This potentially intriguing wrench in their love life, however, is soon rendered inert via the intervention of Thea’s mother, who lets them know that she supports their relationship and not to worry about how it will affect the trial. Susanna Thompson is a fantastic actress, but even she can’t make lines like, “As your mother, I forbid you not to see him” sound anything but corny. Arrow has always been a show that thrives on soap opera elements as much as action beats, but I personally felt this plotline felt like real filler.
The flashback sequences, meanwhile, find Oliver attempting to break free from captivity long enough to contact Shado and Slade back on the island and warn them about an incoming attack from the people on the freighter. He’s offered the chance to do just that by a seemingly sympathetic Sara, though it’s eventually revealed that she conned him so that the freighter people could get a lock on where Shado and Slade are located. Each week, I struggle to find anything of note to say about these flashback scenes mostly because they always feel like fragments that are not worth judging until I’ve seen the whole. In many ways, the structure appears to be the show’s biggest nod to the way comic books tend to roll out their stories.
As a CW show, Arrow is given an episode order that pushes close the mid-20s. Such a demand for story makes it impossible for every episode to be utterly stellar. Perhaps when viewed in the context of a larger story, “Keep Your Enemies Closer” will hold up far better down the line. As with all Arrow episodes, it’s great pulpy fun and one I hope to revisit sooner rather than later. Until then, it bears the distinction of being merely a good episode in a season chock-full of excellent ones.
Final note: apparently Diggle uses Bing on his phone. It’s amazing that in a show where a ripped billionaire playboy dresses up like Robin Hood to fight crime, it’s this plot detail that gives me pause.