Rick Dobran, David Nykl (Photo: Robert Falconer/The CW)

See that headline? The thing about that headline is that it doesn’t include a direction. That’s intentional, and it’s not because a terrible play on words is best left unadorned. That particular phrase is less specific than it might be because this seems like a good direction—and hopefully, it is—but you never know, do you?

That’s especially true in Star City, where fortunes can change in an instant, and do so on a dizzyingly frequent basis. What’s refreshing about “Tribute” is that, if only for this week, some of those fortunes feel changed in a real and permanent way. Yes, it’s unlikely that Diggle will become the Green Arrow indefinitely, but at the same time, what if he did? What if this becomes a series where Oliver Queen, still the focus of the story, takes a backseat in the organization on which it centers? What if Arrow is suddenly about people trying to fit in their vigilante shifts when they’re not at a day job, or with their kid, or dealing with their injury? What if Arrow is about people with lives based in something like reality?

If there’s one moment in this refreshingly crisp episode that best epitomizes that very possibility, it’s the moment in which Curtis starts asking about what the members of Team Arrow do for money. (Lyla’s got ARGUS money, so Diggle is all set, to name one example.) It’s the lead-off to a subplot that’s so day-to-day, so refreshingly normal, that it feels it belongs on another series. Curtis needs to make money, because vigilantism doesn’t pay. Felicity also needs money, because one can’t live off one’s Palmer Tech severance forever. So between attempts to write a code that will determine the origin of a doctored photo and inventing ways to locate Anatoly and his four hostages, they compare notes on the coding languages they know, project they’ve tackled, and so on. Then Felicity asks Curtis to go into business with her, and he says yes—which is good, because she’s already filed.

There’s little possibility of Arrow so thoroughly altering its DNA, but it’s worth celebrating the sense of possibility alone—not only because one week ago I was lamenting a missed opportunity to start somewhat fresh, but because if an hour of television can convince you that it’s even remotely likely that things are about to change, it has done its job and then some. “Lian Yu,” last season’s finale, did that. “Tribute” does that, too.

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Some of that sense of possibility comes courtesy of characters pointing out what by now feels like familiar. The team acknowledges that this isn’t the first time Oliver’s been outed, that they’ve got a routine now, and even if they have to change that routine, it still stands. Even amidst the chaos of Anatoly’s attack, Felicity and Curtis are comfortable multitasking and bantering, because they’ve been doing this for awhile now. They’re pros. Even William, new as he is to Oliver’s world, knows what the deal is, and how things work. Thus one heart-to-heart doesn’t transform him into a bouncing ball of light and warmth. He’s still an angry, lonely kid, because his only parent, still a stranger to him, has a side job that could easily lead their little family to disaster.

Thus all that changes, or seems primed to change, feels more significant than it might otherwise. Diggle’s a soldier, and he’s unaccustomed to not bouncing back; placing others at risk feels equally foreign. His stepping up for Oliver is as routine as it gets, but the seeming permanence of that decision is something else. Perhaps someone just dropping in for a quick Arrow outing might miss the significance, but regular viewers will remember that John also has a child. That’s not one guy asking another guy to step up. That’s a man asking his best friend to be the most visible target on the team, because Oliver’s son has already lost a parent, and Diggle’s son has both.

Of course, change is most evident in Oliver Queen himself. That was true last week, and it’s equally true here. Watching Oliver learn about parenting, and watching him learn about himself through parenting, is an unexpectedly promising development. A guy who can teach his son how to scare off a pack of bullies isn’t as helpful a parent as a guy who can recognize the pain he’s causing his child, who can recognize that his life has changed entirely, and who understands that his own needs—to make his city safer, to assuage his guilt, to follow through on promises, to protect his team—now have to come second. Yes, he’s still a guy who will threaten an FBI agent, which is pretty reckless, but he also makes a realization and then follows that up with a decision, one at which he arrives with relatively little stramash. Oliver Queen was relatively drama-free.

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That’s not to say the episode is a dull one. The return of David Nykl’s Anatoly Knyazev links Oliver to his past, even without flashbacks (and there are no flashbacks!), but he also manages to make his present and future equally as clear. There’s the familiar refrain of asking who is, and who is not, a good man, and while Anatoly and Oliver’s friendship hasn’t always been incredibly compelling, it does the trick, here. It’s slightly contrasted by another friend/father figure whose relationship with Oliver has undergone a similar, but opposite, transformation. Watching Anatoly coldly use everything he knows about Oliver to land body blows and to make clear how dead that spark of friendship is stands in contrast to watching Quentin not only tolerate Oliver’s presence, but actively work to protect and support him.

There are things that don’t work as well, too, specifically Dinah’s storyline. While it’s perfectly logical that Diggle’s refusal to confront his new reality, and thus put her at risk, would make her angry, the tone struck by the script and Juliana Harkavy plays as more petulant than anyone else. There’s little resemblance between the woman who last week was insisting that she continue to lie for Quentin, despite the danger in which it placed him, and the woman who bypasses concern and goes straight to resentment and disdain when it comes to a wounded teammate. The story makes sense; the playing of it does not.

Still, overall, it’s an exciting episode, one with a sense of both gravity and fun. If this is indeed a jumping-off point for a brand new Arrow, it’s a hell of a start. If not, it’s still a damn good hour of television.

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Stray observations

  • So, what did we all think of the Bruce Wayne moment?
  • I still don’t know what to make of this FBI Agent storyline. Sydelle Noel has loads of charisma, and she’s making the most of her scenes (the one with Quentin and Rene was particularly good), but tonally, it’s all over the place. Let’s hope she gets to play something other than hard-ass next week, huh?
  • While he’s not much of a focal point this week, Rick Gonzalez’s Rene might be the episode’s MVP. Last season, Wild Dog was a big of a mixed bag for me. This season, so far? Aces.
  • Salmon ladder count: Zero.

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