My name isn’t Oliver or Emiko Queen, it’s Mike, and here are my thoughts on Arrow‘s “Spartan.” John Diggle calls in an old frenemy to help Team Arrow and the SCPD track down the Ninth Circle.
1. Family, it’s Complicated
For all the super heroics, like the best superhero comics, Arrow uses that stuff to be a more stylish costumed drama than straight superhero narrative. At the core of the series is a twisted mess of familial melodrama played out against a backdrop of saving a city and people who want to destroy it to get at our protagonists. The central family in this drama has been the Queen family, how they’ve poisoned the city, hurt people, and the son trying to redeem them all. While it’s nature as a TV show means this is often the focus of the series, they do not have the sole license for Family Drama™. “Spartan” shifts the focus onto John Diggle and the strained relationship he has with his. After stopping an ARGUS drop to the Ninth Circle, Diggle is forced to make a tough call: to his step-father General Roy Stewart.
Diggle blames Roy for the death of his father on top of the harsh training and conditioning he put him and his brother through in the name of “tough love.” In a surprising move the writers leave most of that history left unspoken and just relying on David Ramsey and guest star Ernie Hudson to carry the tension between the two. I wish the episode had move a bit faster so that their eventual kidnapping could have lasted longer. By Arrow standards their torture was pretty light, although how quickly Stewart gave into demands did make sense in retrospect. After last week’s episode dealing with the avatar for all the Queen family pain, it was a nice reminder that on this family drama, everyone’s family is complicated and there is plenty of drama to go around.
2. Good Casting: Ernie Hudson
Getting Ernie Hudson as General Roy Stewart was an excellent bit of casting. While most people will go with him as Winston Zeddemore in Ghostbusters, he’s always the Warden from Oz to me. His character name is a nice nod to Green Arrow mythology, Roy Stewart is the Grandfather of Green Lantern John Stewart. But it’s more how they used Hudson’s star power that makes this a good guest spot. It’s Ernie Hudson he can’t be an entirely bad guy, he’s too charismatic. So when “Spartan” eventually reveals the reason behind his deception and tough love, it just makes you want to hug him. Likely still not the best Father and it clearly messed up the Diggle boys, but that’s Fathers in the DCWverse for you.
3. Star City 2040: Family is still Complicated and Deathstroke Gangs
There is a Deathstroke gang in Star City 2040, they run a stall in the black market hub. How did we not see this before? It’s a big stall and it isn’t like their Deathstroke cosplay is inconspicuous. Either way, this is a delightful new addition to the growing motif of gang as legacy for Arrow. They likely don’t have the time for it, but there needs to be a The Warrior styled episode with Nu Team Arrow and all the gangs of Star City.
With this being a Diggle centric episode I was at first slightly bummed we didn’t get flashbacks to him growing up with General Stewart. Who wouldn’t want to see them figure out how to de-age David Ramsey and Ernie Hudson? Still they managed to fit the core themes of Diggle family drama into the far future by showing how complicated that family still is. I love it when our heroes aren’t great parents and Diggle continues the tradition. Seriously, Dinah might be the only good one at this point and that’s because she gets to be the cool Aunt. Diggle and Lyala put a lot of pressure on Diggle jr. along with adopted son Connor. For Connor that drove him into Nightwatch. For Diggle jr. it just drove him away and into the Deathstroke gang, which he now runs.
Overall this episode was a nice move away from Queen family drama as various generations of the family realize they do not have the monopoly on Family Drama™.Continued below
4. Realizing the Root of Anger: Emiko
It’s a recurring dynamic in Arrow the partner who betrayed them was secretly manipulated by another great evil, and with this show being so devoted to its own redemption, the thinking goes if the manipulation was exposed their lost partner would come back to them. That happened last week with “Lost Canary.” Ollie needs this to be the case again, Emiko is pretty much the only family he has left. Beth Schwartz has proven herself adept at remixing the various beats that comprise Arrow and they along with episode scribes Benjamin Raab & Deric A. Hughes play with that formula in “Spartan” by sticking to what they’ve already shown us about Emiko.
Yes, Emiko is rightfully mad and worked up over Dante killing her mother as part of a scheme to drive her further into the arms of the Ninth Circle – that she already runs a part of. Team Arrow is operating under the misconception that this death is what drove her to them in the first place, forgetting what she told them about Robert Queen’s actions and lack of action. Sure Dante manipulated her a bit, but the root of her anger and reason for revenge isn’t the death of her Mother. It’s for the absentee father in her life, the family he chose over them, and how that family erased and ruined her. Which is a long chain of events eventually led to her mother being murdered.
The character of Emiko isn’t the exception that proves the rule, she refuses to abide by those rules. She wants revenge and has darn good understandable reasons for it. She’s already up there in the upper tier of Arrow Big Bads because of it.
5. Realizing You’re Nearly a Mad Scientist: Felicity
It took them a while, but the writers room finally had Felicity realize the dark path she was going down for ego and capitalism. The promise of potentially seeing Metal Men creator Will Magnus join the fray was enticing, but character growth is more important. You could argue that they were letting Felicity off a bit easy with Kacy Rohl using her perspective to talk Felicity off the Mad Scientist ledge, but she was right. Felicity wasn’t a full blown mad scientist yet, she doesn’t even have a dirty basement lab filled with take out fried chicken feet. She was on that path, however, with creating a walking surveillance nightmare born out of her own anxieties and insecurities. It was an understandable if unhealthy reaction. The moment of realization may have been a bit more comedic than dramatic but it was overall effective.
Now with ARCHER gone in the past and it popping back up in the future, there are some possibilities. Such as this is proof that Star City 2040 isn’t the “real” future of Arrow. The camera did hang ominously on Rohl’s copy of the programs root code. If ARCHER gets back up and running, it hopefully won’t be because of Felicity.