Echo Kellum, Juliana Harkavy, Rick Gonzalez (Photo: Daniel Power/The CW)

“You guys don’t look like a Chechnyan death squad!”

Arrow’s back, and I’m very relieved to say that it’s in fine form. When the first half of the season wrapped up in December, my big concern was that the “cliffhanger” — Dinah, Curtis, and Rene all leaving Team Arrow — was going to be rescinded almost immediately, just another fake-out in a show with a history of that shit. It’s still unlikely to stick permanently, but for now, it’s prepared to live in the tension, and that can only be good news. Rather than rushing to the likely narrative end, credited writers Ben Sokolowski and Emilio Ortega Aldrich allow Dinah, Rene, and Curtis to stick to their guns (and T-spheres). It’s almost like actions have consequences, and sometimes those consequences stick.

Better still, Sokolowski and Aldrich lace “Divided” with a lively energy that’s been in short supply this season. The stakes remain high, the risks even higher than usual — just ask the Bertinelli family — but everything’s just a little brighter, a little more spirited. Take the quote that opens this review. That’s a high-stakes scene. Oliver is in danger, as is his ally, who yes, runs a dangerous crime syndicate, but also seems to be not so bad, really, and says he never wanted to be in the “family business” in the first place. The aims of Cayden James and his Legion of That Guys are evil, no bones about it, and Michael Emerson’s performance is genuinely chilling. But that line? Fun!

And even in that scene, that’s not the last of it. The look on Emerson’s face when Oliver starts dealing with the T-Spheres? Fun! Digg backing Oliver up via video-game? Fun! The murder of Bertinelli at the battle’s end? Not fun, but when Emerson patiently says “Which is why I won’t have your daughter killed!” to Bertinelli’s corpse? Grim, gruesome fun. Arrow has always made room for one-liners, and Rick Gonzalez, Echo Kellum, and somewhat surprisingly, Stephen Amell have all landed their share of understated punchlines this season. But this isn’t mere quippiness. This is a touch, just a touch, of camp. It’s as though whatever’s in the air over at Legends of Tomorrow HQ is migrating. Nowhere is that more obvious than in the person of Emerson’s Cayden James, a genuinely intimidating villain who’s also genuinely entertaining.

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Arrow has had its share of great villains, but the best have managed to balance threat and malevolence with a little good, old-fashioned mustache-twirling. That doesn’t mean they can’t be frightening — Deathstroke, at his peak, was a nightmare — but there’s a little verve there, too. Emerson’s found that balance in a hurry, and it’s pretty much perfect here. Nearly every moment he’s got, from his exasperation with Not Laurel to his “aren’t you cute” attitude with Oliver, is good to great. It makes “Divided” a season highlight, and I’m eager to see where Emerson and the writers take James next.

It’s fitting that the primary antagonist this season spends so much time hacking not just computers, but nearly everyone around him. Relationships, emotions, power dynamics, attachment, ego: they’re all there to be toyed with, decoded, and wielded to advantage. Yet what’s going on with these characters exists beyond the simply binary of good or evil, trustworthy or otherwise, friend or for. In throwing Vincent’s desires and intentions into question, it puts him in the same corner as Not Laurel: Torn between their darkest impulses and old affections and loyalties, playing at one while denying the other. Johann Urb’s performance hasn’t revealed much yet (though in fairness, this is really the first time he’s had much to do), but Juliana Harkavy’s work in their scenes together made things pretty plain, and for a deeply sad reason.

How weird was it to see Dinah Drake so happy? It’s not as though Harkavy’s Dinah has never smiled before, but seeing her ebulliently telling the story of the worst stakeout she’d ever had underlined how little of that side of her we’ve seen. Even at the team’s highest moments, she’s always been subdued; even in her moments of connections, she’s seemed withdrawn, just a little. It took that giddy moment to make the depth of Dinah’s sadness clear, and it’s given me a new appreciation of Harkavy’s performance. All this time, she’s kept a little something in the tank, and that’s a choice that shows both thoughtfulness and restraint.

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By episode’s end, she’s back to the old kind of happy, the sadder kind, but it’s still a nice moment. It may be fleeting, but there was something exciting about watching the new team stroll into their new headquarters while Digg practices making a non-shaky fist. Rather than parting with hard words, the old guard and the new said goodbye with not affection, perhaps, but with a mutual understanding. Not teammates, but perhaps something else. After all, to paraphrase the now-dead Bertinelli, the enemy of your enemy is your ally. 

Stray observations

  • Did I miss something? Does Not Laurel wear wigs now? I’m not against it, I love wigs, just wondering if maybe I’ve forgotten something.
  • David Ramsey gave Diggle such an obvious sense of satisfaction and joy when he made that fist and caught that gun that it made me want to stand up and cheer.
  • TAMVP: still seeking a name for the Team Arrow MVP of the week, since the salmon ladder is still nowhere to be seen. This week I’ve obviously got to give it to Michael Emerson, although nearly everyone had at least one good to great moment this week. Solid episode.
  • The costumes were great, Thea’s in particular.
  • “I am so sick of everyone not killing him!”
  • “Don’t you knock?” “Don’t you lock your doors?”
  • “Figured he’d go after the most handsome and charming.”
  • “I’m already in charge, Mizzzzzz Laaaaaaaaance!”

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