Arrow 4.09 Dark Waters
While The Flash might have ended its mid-season finale on a lighter note, there was no such luck with Arrow, which, for the second time in two years tied up the first part of its season with the potential death of a major character. Ever since we saw the grave in the 'flashforward' at the start of season four, we've known someone's days are numbered - and the conversation with Barry certainly leaned towards Felicity - and gunned down in a vicious attack by Damien Darhk's ghosts it really does look like the end for Miss Smoak.
In fact Dark Waters was relentless as Oliver's defiance incurred the wrath of the head of HIVE. The drone attack that saw several people critically injured, some of them potential children (though it is never actually confirmed) was a particularly brutal opening and it only continued as Oliver attempted to turn the tables and out Darhk to the public. The following attack at Oliver's holiday party - a futile attempt to be defiant once more - was a pure comic book movie moment that saw Felicity, Diggle and Thea all captured.
What was great was how their capture was a great way to reveal to Oliver and the audience what Darhk's plan for Star City was all about; using the algae harvest from the bay Oliver was warned off to great a gas that will - we assume - weed out the weak when unleashed. The Nazi gas chamber was a nasty touch to the mind of a thoroughly evil villain; if there's one success to note over the others this season it is Neal McDonough as Darhk and this week he was at his very worst. Forcing Oliver to watch as his best friend, his sister and the love of his life were slowly gassed was horrifying to watch and was a demonstration of absolute power, one that Oliver could not face.
Laurel as Black Canary and Malcolm, concerned for his daughter's welfare attacking Darhk's base of operations as Green Arrow, was a great way to hide Oliver's true identity from the villain and still get the titular hero involved even when it was Oliver who was forced to fight the villain as himself. But the episode continued to devastate even when Laurel and Oliver managed to help save everyone. Darhk's retaliation was cruel and swift and the final assault on Oliver's car was a shocking and brutal way to end the first part of season four. He truly is emerging as one of the best villains the show has ever had.
If anything though, Felcity's impending death felt too obvious, too tragic. Her mother discovering the engagement ring Oliver had in the season opener led to a number of heartfelt discussions that demonstrated yet again just how important she was in Oliver's life. The very public proposal was the icing on the cake and it is no wonder Darhk took vengeance soon after. Emily Bett Rickards clearly showed why she has become a fan favourite over the years and if this is her last appearance on the show, she will be sorely missed.
Though of course there is part of me wondering of the whole grave thing is a double bluff thing to pretend she died just to trick and defeat Darhk...or perhaps I've just watched far too much TV that I'm double guessing everything. Perhaps this is just it, the end of the ill fated romance that was Oliver Queen and Felicity Smoak.
The other thing I admired about this episode were the moments where the rest of the key relationships were explored, particularly the paternal ones. Quentin and Laurel seem to have finally come to a mutual understanding about their roles in this continuing fight; his acceptance that she was now the Black Canary, while her understanding of why he worked for HIVE and his double agent actions showed just how far they had come. The less can be said for the very antagonistic but amusing relationship between Malcolm and Thea, while there was a particularly angst-ridden scene as Diggle went to his brother Andrew for answers and failed to get any. Oh and the pairing of Donna Smoak and Quentin Lance is just brilliant fun!
Dark Waters was a dramatic, brutal mid-season finale, in some ways more brutal than last years even though Ra's Al Ghul 'killing' Oliver is still going to be hard to top. Damien Darhk cemented himself as one of Arrow's best villains even if it feels there is still far more to come. As for Felicity's fate, I think it would be brave of the show just to let her die, even though the character and Emily Bett Rickards will be missed. A lot to ponder before the show returns in the new year in what has is shaping up to be the strongest season yet.