Felicity remarks midway through tonight’s episode, “What happens in Russia stays in Russia… even if it makes no sense.” She says that line in response to Summer Glau’s Isabel Rochev leaving Oliver’s hotel room, and it initiates a whole new love triangle for Oliver; gone are the Lance sisters, replaced instead by his business partner and one of his crime-fighting partners, who literally nobody thinks is just his personal assistant. Oliver’s fling with Isabel is something that, if it makes sense at all, only does so right in the moment, as the two bond over their knowledge of the Russian language and their shared buried trauma. As seen most obviously with the Huntress, Oliver is attracted to women who are capable of understanding his damage, which generally means he falls into bed with those who are just as troubled as he is. Admittedly, Oliver has grown significantly since the time of the Huntress two-parter, and he doesn’t appear at all interested in pursuing a relationship with Isabel—in fact, he more or less confirms such an interest in Felicity, albeit in strictly hypothetical terms—but it’s understandable why, in the moment, Oliver might well forge such an unlikely connection, especially when the emotions involved don’t appear to go very far beyond lust and animal attraction.
But that line feels like an equally apt description of the next scene, which finds Diggle teaming up with his arch-nemesis Deadshot to save Lyla Michaels. More generally, “Keep Your Enemies Closer” is governed by logic that seems alien to the typical Arrow episode. The show has parceled out just enough information for the audience to understand the basics of how Oliver is able to get so much done in Moscow—he saved the life of his old cellmate, Bratva leader Anatoli Knyazev—but it’s still anybody’s guess how Oliver manages to strike fear into Russian rogues who appeared ready to kill Anatoli just moments before. Yet such insanity feels entirely in keeping with this particular strand of Arrow. This is the sort of storytelling that becomes possible when the show established that Oliver was a captain in the Russian mafia over a year ago and then dared the audience to ask for an explanation. With a background like that, just about anything is possible.
Proving that Oliver doesn’t have the monopoly on massive personal secrets, Diggle reveals that his A.R.G.U.S. contact Lyla Michaels is actually his ex-wife, which is why he will stop at nothing to get her back. It’s an odd revelation, because it’s hard to look back on Diggle’s scenes with Lyla in previous episodes and find an emotional subtext indicative of such a deep relationship. Then again, this is John Diggle we’re talking about, and he’s a man not exactly known for wearing his feelings on his sleeve. It’s a moderately implausible reveal, especially when the show is also still in the process of redefining Sara’s story in the flashbacks, but it serves a larger purpose in the episode. In basic plot terms, it wouldn’t really make sense for Lyla to break into a Russian prison on Diggle’s behalf or for him to head to Russia to save her if they were just friends, and it seems unlikely that Amanda Waller would recruit a couple of rogue operators like Diggle and Oliver Queen if she wasn’t entirely sure of their commitment to bringing Lyla home.
More importantly, this revelation helps build an existence for Diggle that is independent of Oliver. The show first tried this last season with Diggle’s ill-fated courtship of his brother’s widow, but that whole concept proved just a little too weird for Diggle and, in all likelihood, the Arrow creative team. The idea that Diggle was too obsessed with his vendetta against his brother’s killer to make a relationship with Carly was a good enough reason as any to break things off, but it also left him in stasis; his anger left him unable to build a normal life, but it didn’t actually make him go out and search for Deadshot either, because then he wouldn’t be around to help out Oliver. The only option then is for Diggle to build a life that isn’t normal, and building something with his globe-trotting superspy ex-wife seems like a good place to start. The results probably won’t be quite as drastic as what we see in “Keep Your Enemies Closer”—after all, it’s her capture that spurs Diggle into action and allows him to finally confront Floyd Lawton—but it makes sense for Diggle to spend his time with people who are more or less aware of what he and Oliver are up to. Arrow has enough time for Oliver to develop multiple personae, depending on who he is dealing with, but it’s probably a good idea for the show to be more streamlined in how it writes for Diggle.
After all, the last few episodes have been so Oliver-focused that there has been little room for Diggle to make a mark, even as a quip-dispensing adviser, so it’s refreshing to see him take such an active role in tonight’s episode; the audience can always tell that shit is about to get real when both Oliver and Felicity start referring to Diggle as “John.” The episode wisely avoids overcomplicating the prison break sequence. Sure, there’s an exploding winter coat, a wise political dissident cellmate, and a meat freezer that doubles as a torture facility, but all “Keep Your Enemies Closer” really cares about is getting Diggle into that freezer alongside Deadshot and then having the two team up to save Lyla. While I’m still not entirely sold on the show’s version of Deadshot, he gets closer to the cocksure wiseass version of the comics and Justice League Unlimited Floyd Lawton with each appearance. The revelation that he actually was contracted to kill Diggle’s brother on behalf of a mysterious organization known as H.I.V.E. is an intriguing twist, partly because it again gives Diggle something to be pursuing independent of Oliver but also because it gives the show an excuse to reappraise just how Deadshot fits into its universe. There’s an opportunity here to shift him from a true villain to more of an unpredictable mercenary, which feels more in keeping with how Deadshot has evolved in other incarnations. Then again, if Diggle wanted Lawton dead when he though the guy accidentally killed his brother, it’s hard to see why he would forgive the guy now that he knows Lawton killed him intentionally.
The episode’s sole subplot, in which Thea is told to break up with Roy for the good of her mother’s defense, is particularly indebted to the soap opera strands of Arrow’s creative DNA. The reason why this story works better than it might have last season is that the show understands far better just who these characters are. Roy is sort of trying to stay out of trouble, but his role as the Arrow’s eyes and ears in the Glades leaves him in an unstable position; it’s inevitable that he will let himself be drawn into further altercations, and Officer Lance won’t always be around to let him off the hook as a favor to their mutual friend. Thea loves Roy, for all his reckless idiocy, but she also loves her mother, and she’s reached a point where she is prepared—perhaps too prepared—to make the self-sacrificing choice that will help her mother. In the grand scheme of things, this subplot doesn’t do all that much beyond show off how much Willa Holland and Colton Haynes have grown into their roles, but consider that closing scene at the jailhouse, in which Moira essentially orders Thea to start dating Roy again. That scene effectively signals that, if Thea and Roy are going to break up, it’s not going to be for some random throwaway reason like the flimsy connection between Thea’s personal life and her mother’s case. Instead, their future is going to be driven by who they are as characters, and that’s reassuring, especially since it seems that’s how Arrow is approaching all its characters’ stories.
- I’m really impressed with how great Stephen Amell has become as Oliver. His comic timing and delivery really seems to have reached another level this season, and he gets in quite a few good one-liners in “Keep Your Enemies Closer.”
- David Nykl is a lot of fun as Anatoli Knyazev, even if it does seem a little weird to not depict how Oliver actually saves the guy’s life in the episode that he appears. It feels like the show is a little less concerned this season with syncing the flashbacks up with what’s going on in the present day.
- Speaking of the flashbacks, Dylan Neal remains terrifyingly unsettling as Professor Ivo, and Caity Lotz is intriguingly ambiguous as the past version of Sarah. It’s still very much an open question just what Ivo did to her during her year on that boat. Also, if anyone is wondering why Slade Wilson might start wearing the Deathstroke mask again, I think we have an answer.
- Particle accelerator protests and talk of World War II-era genetic experiments? Nope, I still can’t think of any larger significance to those plot points. None at all.