Ray Palmer is back!
Not that this was ever a surprise, mind you. Within a few weeks of his initial introduction, CW had already announced yet another Arrow spin-off in which Palmer’s A.T.O.M. would be one of the stars. When placed in that context, Ray’s “death” at the end of last season was merely an inconvenience to overcome.
“Lost Souls” is, in theory, about Team Arrow banding together to save a miniaturized Ray from the clutches of Damien Darhk. I say “in theory” because the hour occasional feels so scattered and filled-to-the-brim with various subplots that it’s hard to tell. Putting aside the inevitable Island Flashback scenes (which, for the record, are okay and mainly focus on the evil military group looking for some nebulous artifact), the episode also features the return of Felicity’s mother, Donna, a fight between Oliver and Felicity as to the nature of their relationship, Sara’s trouble transitioning back into superhero-fighting and Thea mulling over a date proposal by Oliver’s campaign manager. Any one of these could be a major, meaty subplot, had they been given their own episode to breathe. When strung together like this, however, each one of the stories just ends up feeling half-baked.
Perhaps the most egregious example is the Sara plotline. After nearly three episodes centered on Sara’s resurrection and the restoration of her soul, her assimilation back into the land of the living has felt like little more than an extended afterthought. It’s as if production only had Caity Lotz for a sparse number of days before she needed to be shifted off to work on Legends of Tomorrow. Moreover, her story here basically amounts to a CliffNotes version of Thea’s, wherein the former Black Canary finds herself unable to hold back when beating down villains. The difference here is that, by episode’s end, Sara has killed someone and decides she can’t continue as a member of the core team.
The Oliver-Felicity plotline doesn’t fare much better, with the episode veering awkwardly between broad domestic comedy (Felicity is horrified that Oliver and Donna have been communicating without her knowledge! Oliver is feeling threatened and unsure of why Felicity choose to settle down with him!) and stabs at legitimate “trouble in paradise” drama (Felicity is afraid she’s following in her mother’s footsteps and centering her life on a man). By episode’s end, these conflicts have mostly resolved themselves, making the whole thing seem a bit superfluous and like conflict for conflict’s sake.
Of course, I go this long in the review without even mentioning the Ray rescue, which seems like it should be the natural focus of this installment. Instead, the wealth of other plotlines reduces it to a quasi-background storyline for the first half of the hour. At one point, Felicity even reprimands Oliver for arranging a dinner with her mother, while Ray lies trapped in a prison. It’s as if the writers are saying, “Yeah, we know this is the story we should probably be honing in on…”
When the episode eventually does build to the heist/rescue of Ray, it’s here where Arrow’s best qualities—the action and the bantering team dynamic—really shine through. But even that’s not without its slip-ups. From a purely logistical standpoint, I don’t really understand why Dahrk, being the forward-thinking genius that he is, would allow Ray to be locked inside a cell with his suit. What’s more, one big element to the plan involves Oliver-as-Green-Arrow being purposefully captured by Darhk so that the team has time to free Ray. Neal McDonough and the creative team have, until now, done an exceptional job at building up Darhk as a force to be reckoned with. This makes the fact that Oliver is able to so easily escape his clutches all the more confusing. It doesn’t really bode well for your big, powerful bad guy when a few bits of misdirection and a flash bomb can so easily vanquish him.
“Lost Souls” feels like several Arrow episodes crammed into one. The end result is several disparate stories that feel watered down and randomly shuffled about. To the creative team’s credit, however, it never specifically feels like the disaster I’ve made it out to be. Certainly, in the moment, the episode is just as fun as the half-dozen or so that have preceded it. With the show now in its senior year, it’s hard to not marvel at how effectively the cast and crew have crafted a well-oiled machine that, even with its occasional bumps, never fails to get you where you want to be.