Attacking children, destroying a Christmas party, and almost killing half of Team Arrow — Damien Darhk makes the Grinch pre-heart growth look like an absolute angel.
Yes, Damien Darhk checked off more than a few requisites in the maniacal villain handbook during “Dark Waters,” which saw Team Arrow putting themselves in the line of fire out of their normal costumed brawls. Saving Star City around the holidays becomes about more than a simple matter of waving to the camera and giving the press a good quote for Oliver — it involves protecting the ones he loves most.
Damien Darhk’s presence is felt early in “Dark Waters” as he sends a drone down to a bayside volunteer program Oliver is running. The drone guns down the beach until Felicity is able to hack and stop it. Luckily no one is killed in the process, but the public statement by Damien forces Oliver’s hand.
Initially, he has no comment for the press. They don’t know why Damien cares about the bay so much, and Oliver wants to be sure of what they’re taking on before he retaliates in any fashion. And even though Diggle’s brother offers no help in that department, the team still comes up with a plan.
It’s not one Oliver necessarily loves. It paints a target on all of their backs, his patented protective leader mode kicking in, but they all want to go ahead with it. So Oliver does, speaking before the press and publicly revealing Darhk as the leader of the Ghosts and HIVE, as well as HIVE’s intentions to kill the city. He wants them all to stand united against this threat, believing awareness will help bring him to justice.
What Oliver doesn’t initially want is to carry on with life like everything is all right, specifically in the case of his campaign holiday party. The rest of the team isn’t going to let him off the hook that easily, however. Christmas (and Hanukkah, as Felicity rightly reminds the team) is a time to celebrate friends and family and to be merry. Even with a murderous mystical madman attempting to lay siege to the city, a few hours away from the frightful weather spent by the delightful fire can’t hurt them, right?
Felicity in particular enters the party with more than just Darhk on her mind. While her mother was setting up for the party earlier, she, after uttering a glass-cracking worthy scream, discovers Oliver’s engagement ring. Not only that, but she also shows it to Felicity, who expects Oliver to pop the question at any moment.
The Holiday party certainly appears to be a prime opportunity, and she’s not great at hiding her anticipation. As Curtis and his husband come by, she calls Ollie and herself practically engaged, having to backtrack in the fast talking way only Felicity could. But her slip-up leads her to ask how Curtis and his husband were engaged, which gets the gears in Felicity’s head turning all the way back to their time living outside the city. She distinctly remembers the night Thea and Laurel came asking for help, realizing Oliver must have meant to propose then. She confirms the theory with her mom (after being shocked to find her in the arms of Quentin Lance), and then approaches Oliver about it.
He concedes that was his plan, but that once they moved back to Star City and entered this new battle, it caused him to reconsider his life. Before he can further explain himself, however, an uninvited guest barges in to the tune of gunfire.
NEXT: Damien thinks the Nazis weren’t half bad. Should we maybe do something about this guy? [pagebreak]
Damien, flanked by his Ghosts, steps into the party, snapping up a glass of wine and delighting in the spotlight as he condemns Oliver for going against his wishes. (The scene, purposely or not, evokes the Joker’s arrival to Bruce Wayne’s party in The Dark Knight, though Damien has the good sense to not waste the alcohol.) Rather than directly hurting Oliver, however, he plans to hit him by threatening those he loves most. With what amounts to a force push sending Oliver careening through the room, Diggle, Thea, and Felicity rush to his aid, giving Damien three ideal captives. The Ghosts seize the trio; Oliver wakes up to find them and Darhk’s crew gone from the party. Quentin regrets not stepping in to blow his cover, but Oliver is bearing so much of the blame himself he doesn’t seem to mind all that much.
Suited up as the Green Arrow, he tears through the city, pummeling Ghost after Ghost for some information on Darhk’s location, but he comes up empty-handed. Luckily, he’s got help from Malcolm Merlyn. (ASIDE: It’s tough not to notice, but the episode plays Malcolm’s appearance as a bit of a surprise or at least unwanted, which doesn’t make sense after he spent the crossover constantly lurking in the Arrow lair’s shadows. While Quentin seems most shocked, which tracks after he did not have a role in the crossover, Malcolm’s appearances there and at Thea’s apartment feel like they insinuate he wasn’t just in town helping the crew take out an immortal villain. The episode survives as it’s only a minor nuisance, but still a noticeable one. END ASIDE)
Merlyn has a phone from one of Damien’s closed network of Ghosts, which Oliver uses to set up a meeting. He offers turning himself in for the freedom of his friends. Before Darhk gives up his leverage, however, he shows Oliver his plan. He brings him to a facility with a gas chamber and speaks of how the Nazis perfected such a device and that every now and then the world needs a bit of a reset. Darhk is here to provide that restart, showcasing one of his brainwashed captives being killed by the gas pouring into the tank.
That gas uses algae from the bay Oliver was cleaning up, which is why Damien had such an investment in the location. And now he’s planning to install Oliver as his own personal puppet mayor after giving him a minute with Felicity to say goodbye. The two get a little deeper into their conversation at the party, after working through Oliver’s guilt. Felicity, hearing traces of the old Ollie in his voice, reaffirms that he is not the boss of her. She gets to decide if she needs protection, and she also gets to tell him that had he proposed, she would have said yes.
Unfortunately, it looks like that moment will never come, as Damien puts Diggle, Thea, and Felicity in the gas chamber. Oliver is furious that Darhk lied but, as he points out, he is a villain, after all. So he begins to gas them. Of course, all of Team Arrow aren’t in the room, and Laurel appears with the help of… the Green Arrow?
Sort of. It’s Malcolm Merlyn dressed in Oliver’s outfit so as to not blow his dual identity. Laurel left Quentin behind at base, mirroring Felicity’s speech about not needing him to help her because she decides when she needs protection. (It’s a good, strong moment for Laurel and Quentin, who so often are saddled with incredibly melodramatic material. The scene between them at the lair is serious, sure, but they both give it a realistic, believable tinge that sells a lot of the growth we’re supposed to see in Laurel.)
NEXT: Is the honeymoon over before it begins? [pagebreak]
Laurel uses the Canary Cry to crack the glass of the chamber, which Oliver smashes apart to free his friends. They all make it out alive and attempt to escape the facility. There’s the matter of Damien to attend to still, though, as he’s currently embroiled in a battle with Malcolm-as-Arrow.
Ollie goes to help Malcolm while the others flee. They run into Damien’s prisoners, whose cells conveniently open. But rather than run for safety as well, they want to destroy Team Arrow. The crew isn’t going to let that threat get to them, however, and with the assistance of Quentin and a few extra policemen, they’re able to subdue their attackers and escape. It’s a good thing they do so quickly, as the building explodes moments later. Oliver saves Malcolm from being magically choked to death (Damien is essentially a lightsaber-less Sith all episode), and the two plant a bomb right next to a pinned-down Darhk.
The facility is bombed out, but no Darhk body is found. Damien is, naturally, alive and well, continuing on with his Genesis plan, which he shows off to the other HIVE executives who have been on his case all episode. He leads them to a massive underground facility with realistic air and what looks like miles of fresh corn being grown in the facility. His plan is still a go, and it apparently involves the greatest threat humanity has ever seen — too many vegetables.
Whatever Darhk truly has planned, his reign of terror is by no means over, even as he goes home to what apparently is a (brainwashed?) family for Christmas. The team finds a moment of peace in the aftermath of the fight, though Diggle still can’t get through to his brother. Andy is still locked up and refusing to say more than a few words to Diggle, but he’s doing nothing to restore John’s faith in him after all the pain he put his wife, his son, and Diggle through.
But everyone regroups for Oliver’s public Christmas tree lighting, meant as a sign of union to the city. Holiday-based unity isn’t the only kind Oliver has in mind for the occasion, though. Before his friends and the city at large, he proposes to Felicity. She says yes, and the two ride off into the night in a state of bliss.
Until their limo is stopped in the street, that is. Ghosts surround the vehicle and gun it down, killing the driver in the process. Oliver sneaks through the bullet storm up to the driver’s seat and gets them clear of the target site. Taking a moment’s rest, he scrambles back to Felicity, only to find her unconscious and bleeding.
But her true fate* is not revealed just yet.
On the island Oliver continues his trek with Taiana, who gives him a quick diving lesson before he makes his way to a submerged ship in search of a map. He retrieves it before Baron Reiter’s men can and returns to shore. (And apparently evades a shark — seriously what was up with the shark? It feels like a scene was chopped out, and I’m left having to write fan fiction that transforms that shark into The Flash’s King Shark.)
Conklin is there to greet him, however, and he has plans to make Oliver pay for what he’s done.
*She’s totally alive, right? You can read some evidence from EW’s Natalie Abrams about why she suspects Felicity is not the one in the grave from the season premiere. But with the next episode preview, this feels like another The Walking Dead Glenn situation in the making. The look at the midseason premiere splices the grave footage with Felicity in the hospital, but it feels grafted on as a fake-out, not a true revolution of her fate. It’s disappointing if true, but hopefully the wait until Jan. 20 is not filled with Arrow producers teasing Felicity’s fate with vague statements every other week.
Let me know what you think will happen to Felicity below or on Twitter @jmdornbush.