Rick Gonzalez, Juliana Harkavy, Echo Kellum, David Ramsey, and Emily Bett Rickards (Photo: Dean Buscher/The CW)

Here’s the short and vaguely irritated version of the review that follows below: Oh great, Oliver’s trust and emotional issues get in the way of his decision-making, and the results are disastrous — again. Listen, Arrow has passed the 100-episode mark, and at a certain point, repetition becomes inevitable. That’s not a deal-breaker, and “Irreconcilable Differences” isn’t, either. I’ve seen worse hours of television this week. What’s frustrating is that it’s all so flat. If you swapped some old characters in for Team Newbie and exchanged Cayden James for, say, Damien Darhk, it would pretty much work. That’s not good, and it makes for a predictably explosive mid-season finale.

What’s especially telling here is that the scenes that work best — Lance’s first big scene with Not Laurel, the scene where the three newbies share one huge burger, Thea urging her brother toward empathy, Quentin giving Oliver his watch, Curtis quitting — are all either rooted in history or in something new. I don’t imagine we’ll get many episodes of Arrow that don’t have at least two fight or mission sequences, nor is this an argument for less of either overall. Still, the real meat of this episode is found in the idea that a member of the team could be compromised through threats to his family, and in the effect that would have on the team. It’s explored largely through plot, not through character, which is why the moments when character becomes the focus are those that really sing. The stuff that gets us from A to B mostly falls flat, both because we’ve seen it all before and because those other, smaller moments hit far harder.

Before getting into the somewhat substantive elements of the hour, let’s delve into the big finale twist: one team assembles as another disbands. It’s late, so I’m giving into my worst impulses and calling them the Legion of Whom. There are familiar faces — Not Laurel/Black Siren is naturally there, as is their apparent ringleader, Cayden James. Then Anatoly strolls in, a moderate surprise, and then Vigilante, not remotely a surprise, and then Ricardo Diaz/Dragon, at which point you could be forgiven for checking IMDB to see who that is exactly. There’s also Boots, who appears in the episode where James first shows up. It’s… not a thrilling team-up. When the series returns, who knows? For now, the only real surprise comes in its existence at all. Arrow has telegraphed a few things this season, and this episode telegraphs some more — raise your hand if you knew the witness was Rene the second Quentin told Oliver what was going on — but those entrances weren’t telegraphed at all. It was inevitable that some other character would drift into James’s orbit, and Vigilante was by far the most likely candidate, but bringing several baddies in at once is a familiar move that was nevertheless at least somewhat unexpected.

That’s the new team, so about the old one: Dinah, Curtis, and Rene are all out. Definitely out. Permanently out. Pay no attention to the fact that those characters have logos that appear in the opening credits sequence, or that the season has been diligently focused on the ideas of families, chosen and otherwise. They’re totally, definitely, certainly out forever.

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(Photo: Dan Power/The CW)

That’s perhaps unfair. Sometimes when people quit Team Arrow, they do so permanently — whether the decision to have Thea quit was based on Willa Holland’s availability or not, it was a great decision for the character, who experienced an incredible amount of pain and trauma as a result of her Lazarus Pit bloodlust — and to be honest, it’s unlikely that all three will return in the same roles. There’s nothing wrong with a cliffhanger that’s obviously not going to stick, as long as it offers a genuine thrill, a moment of suspense, or emotional catharsis. This dissolution offers none of those things. Oliver not trusting the team is old news, and Arrow was still exploring what it’s like when he does trust these people. There’s no way the story isn’t about the team sticking together in the long run, and this breakup doesn’t hurt at all because the writers purposefully avoid having any character say or do anything that’s wholly unforgivable, especially given that Oliver almost finds his way to forgiving Rene for turning witness in the first 30 minutes.

That’s not to say that there aren’t some emotionally resonant moments. It’s a continual delight to see how much better Katie Cassidy is as Not Laurel, and not just when she’s doing her villainess drag. Her final scene with Paul Blackthorne’s Quentin Lance falls a bit flat, as the result is a foregone conclusion, but their first extended scene together, in which she tells him about her Earth-2 dad and how he died, works really well. Perhaps it’s because Cassidy and Blackthorne have spent so much time together, but that scene does more to make Not Laurel a compelling character than any of her “humanizing” scenes with Team Arrow. Similarly affecting is the scene in which Quentin gives Oliver his watch, because Oliver doesn’t have a parent there to offer a similar gift, and Quentin’s brief reunion with Charlotte Ross’s Donna Smoak. It’s good stuff, not mind-blowing perhaps, but thoughtful.

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Also thoughtful are most of the scenes between the members of Team Newbie. According to the preview for the winter premiere, that’s actually a thing that’s headed our way. Those scenes aren’t as potent as the moments described above, but there’s something lovely and honest about three people whose lives all changed pretty much simultaneously getting together to lament the difficulties that come with that change, and to rightfully bitch about being treated poorly by their boss, with whom they risk life, limb and liberty every damn night.

As such, the idea of more of Dinah, Rene, and Curtis hanging out packs plenty of appeal. There’s just no chance it’s permanent, and Arrow didn’t try very hard to convince us otherwise. Oliver’s actions often have consequences, but unless an actor is leaving the show, those consequences usually only last long enough for him to learn a lesson. That’s a formula, and it’s a tired one. More good acting and cool fighting, please.


Stray observations

  • Salmon ladder watch: why do I even bother anymore?
  • TAMVP: Since the salmon ladder has deserted me, time to start a new recurring bullet. Currently accepting applications for a cute name for the Team Arrow Most Valuable Player of the week. This week’s winner: Paul Blackthorne/Quentin Lance, who kicked the crap out of that scene with Not Laurel and tugged the ol’ heartstrings with that watch.
  • William enthusiastically dancing with Auntie Thea was the most that kid has ever seemed like a kid and it was delightful.
  • I know he had a redemption moment, but are we really supposed to be cool with Felicity’s dad now?
  • Cayden James may be a genius, but letting Team Arrow destroy the piece of important science equipment when he had a camera the whole time and totally knew it was coming seems not smart.
  • “I am a man of my word. If I weren’t there wouldn’t be much of a point in vowing to destroy this city, would there?”

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