It’s Arrow without Arrow this week. After his trial by combat with Ra’s al-Ghul late last year, our hero was unceremoniously gutted and tossed off a mountain into the snowy ravine below.
That’s not to say “Left Behind” is completely devoid of Oliver. Naturally, the cheat is the Hong Kong flashbacks, which depict Oliver and Maseo attempting to stop a group of criminals from abducting the Omega bioweapon’s partner chemical, Alpha (of course it’s called Alpha). As with most recent flashbacks, this one is serviceably fun while still feeling as though it doesn’t entirely gel with the momentum of the main plotline. That being said, director Glen Winter does manage to sneak in some seriously cool sequences, including a brief yet seriously gorgeous shot where a series of glass panes collapse around Oliver in perfect sync.
Back in the present, however, Oliver’s absence weighs heavily on his allies. While Team Arrow continues their work catching criminals, with Diggle donning the ill-fitting Arrow get-up (“this suit is too tight,” he complains), everyone is growing increasingly despondent. As per usual, each member has their own approach. Roy remains somewhat optimistic while still clinging to reality, asking Diggle when they should “start to worry.” Diggle, being a soldier who has lost friends and colleagues alike, is prepping himself for the worst. That leaves Felicity who, naturally, has driven herself into a state of denial. Given all that Oliver has survived, she theorizes, there’s no way he wouldn’t survive his Ra’s al-Ghul encounter.
As a kind of coping mechanism, the remaining trio throw themselves headfirst into work, tracking down recently released criminal kingpin Danny “Brick” Brickwell. A massive mountain of a man, Brick has wormed his way out of jail time by arranging the brutal deaths of all the case’s witnesses. In one of the series’ most brilliant casting coups, Brick is played by Vinnie Jones, the very epitome of the rough and tumble heavy. Jones certainly makes an impression in his first scene, by brutally beating up a henchman who talked to the police. And when I say “brutally,” I mean it. Shot in one continuous take, Brick slams the butt of a gun into the poor soul’s face, causing blood to spew out of his mouth in several red mists. It’s among the most graphic depictions of violence I’ve ever seen on the CW, and does a lot to set-up this villain’s prowess.
Aside from being just generally entertaining, the Brick storyline also keeps the episode from feeling too gloomy and pontificating. That’s not to say that the writers don’t throw in the necessary pathos when needed. No surprise—the big star of this episode is Emily Bett Rickards, who beautifully captures the various stages of grief, from the shaky denial in the beginning to the crushing depression that emerges after Malcolm Merlyn arrives with Ra’s sword, which is coated in Oliver’s blood. Her acceptance of Oliver’s death leads to her snapping at Ray Palmer for his attempt at honoring his fiancée’s death by becoming a superhero. This, in turn, elicits the first genuinely angry response from Ray, as he sternly responds that it’s not her place to talk about what his fiancée would have wanted.
More surprising perhaps is how Oliver’s disappearance affects the traditionally stern Diggle. In an unexpectedly heartbreaking encounter with Laurel, Diggle finally drops the repressed act and talks about how he still sees himself as Oliver’s bodyguard. In light of recent events, he feels as though he’s failed. Here, David Ramsay really steps to the plate and shows himself to be capable of much more than just the team’s muscle guy.
Even Laurel makes a big leap in the wake of Oliver’s demise by finally donning her sister’s outfit and becoming the new Black Canary. Needless to say, I still take issue with the fact that only a few months of intense training has transformed her from docile lawyer to ass-kicking ninja warrior, but perhaps future episodes will explore her limitations.
We all know Oliver’s death will not be permanent and the final shot of the episode confirms it. After having his body dragged from the ravine, Oliver awakens in a hut to discover that Maseo has recovered his body and has brought him back to life with the assistance of his wife, Tatsu. As established in the flashbacks, this serves as the fulfillment of a promise that Maseo made to him after Oliver helped to find Tatsu. How exactly they accomplished this looks to be explored in the next episode (money is still on the Lazarus Pit).
In successfully exorcising the central character for a good portion of the hour, “Left Behind” shows itself to be a greatly dexterous installment of television. Though the show has shifted focus to different characters at various points in the run (most notably, last year’s Diggle-centric “Suicide Squad”) this episode manages to convey both the emotional ramifications of such a big event, while never allowing the show’s inherent fun factor to slide. Having now revealed the identity of Sara’s murderer, in addition to introducing a new Big Bad (Brick) along with the Bigger Bad (Ra’s al-Ghul), Arrow looks to be locking itself in for a far more thrilling and well-focused second half.