Colton Haynes, Willa Holland
Photo: Daniel Power (The CW)

On a show with a life this long you’re sometimes going to lose track of things. Who’s mad at who now, and why, and what’s the history there? With characters like Malcolm Merlyn or even Anatoly, wading through the many shifts and reversals of seasons past can add some lag time to one’s comprehension. You see a familiar face, and flip through episodes and appearances in your mind before placing whether or not that recurring character is an ally at the moment. In a season in which relationships have mutated and degraded with some frequency, it’s refreshing to not have to page through a mental (or actual) Arrow wiki to confirm what side someone’s on. Short version: welcome back, Roy Harper, and thanks for setting up a straightforward story.

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“Doppelganger” isn’t a top-tier episode of Arrow, but after a few misfires, it’s a relief to simply watch an hour of this series that makes sense. The narrative traces multiple storylines, but they link together in a way that’s logical. One: Not-Laurel announces that she’s Real-Laurel in front of cameras, forcing Team Arrow to play along, before she’s swiped from the hospital from right under Dinah and Quentin’s noses by another cop. Two: Diaz has the District Attorney and most of the police department in his pocket, so when the D.A. wants to further cement his case against Oliver by bringing in Roy Harper (Colton Haynes), the S.C.P.D. pitches in a helping hand by holding (and beating the hold crap out of) Roy. Three: The confluence of those events leads Felicity and company to discover that a significant percentage of the police department is in Diaz’s employ, which prompts Oliver to direct Quentin and Dinah to set the Laurel business to the side so they can figure out what the hell is going on.

It all ties together, but none of it’s particularly flimsy on its own. The main story, Thea’s determination to save Roy and her realization of exactly how much she misses him, is actually the most unsatisfying. We’ve seen so little of Thea (and of Willa Holland) this season, so when she’s actually a part of the main action — to say nothing of getting back in the Speedy suit — the fact that she’s still not given much to do is frustrating, to say the least. It’s still better than nothing, but the arc can be described thus: she worries, she acts, she’s pissed, she acts, she saves him. What’s more promising is what’s headed Thea’s way (and our way) next, with the possibility, however remote, of an honest-to-god happy ending for Thea Queen on the horizon.

It’s not complicated, and it’s not the showcase for Thea (and Holland) that one might want, but Roy’s return serves as a reminder that it’s possible for Oliver to earn and maintain trust. It isn’t as though there weren’t ups and downs with Roy — there were, and plenty of them — but none of the characters even consider the possibility that he’s willingly flipped and is informing on Oliver. I can’t speak for everyone else watching, but I never considered it, either. This one element of certainty makes it possible for the rest of the story to function, and it may not be the most interesting way to tell a story, but it’s a hell of a relief.

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Willa Holland
Photo: Jack Rowand (The CW)

It also sets into motion the events that fill the rest of the hour. Because there’s never any question of whether or not Roy needs rescuing, everything else becomes simpler. Not-Laurel can’t be trusted, but her lead is worth following, because Roy needs to be rescued. Thea’s “retired,” but of course she has to suit up, because Roy needs to be rescued. And in what’s likely the most important development, Roy’s situation leads to the discovery of the corruption of the SCPD, which forces Dinah and Oliver to forge a temporary truce, since there’s no chance of either being secretly in league with Diaz, and that’s true of almost no one else.

In several ways, “Doppelganger” feels like an episode designed to set up the rest of the season. From here, one can see several avenues for a possible exit for Thea, for the eventual reunion of Team Arrow and Team Not-Arrow, for the passing of the hood from Oliver to John, and for whatever battle for the soul of Not-Laurel Lance is likely to be waged between Quentin Lance and Ricardo Diaz. It comes off as both a return to basics and a course correction, a stabilizing story in what’s been a turbulent season. There’s not one moment here as good as Felicity’s speech from “We Fall,” but there are very few moments one could call bad, either.

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Few isn’t none, though. Kirk Acevedo is admirably game as Diaz, but the character remains so poorly defined that it’s hard to find him anything but watchable. His fight with a recruit on the glowing platform thing — what is that, a dance floor? — is engaging enough, but it plays as nothing more than a spotlight for a few gifted stunt performers. And the Not-Laurel rehabilitation tour continues to fall flat, despite the evident enjoyment Katie Cassidy takes from lines like “Fun fact.” None of her reversals are as surprising or enjoyably twisty as the show seems to think, because at this point she’s been nothing but reversals and twists; when the show seems to hint she’s lying, she will inevitably be telling the truth, and when the show suggest she’s being truthful, she’s sure to be lying.

There’s nothing wrong with following a formula now and again. This episode does, and it works, for the most part. But ask an audience to fall for the same unconvincing trick too many times, and they’ll begin to lose interest. For the moment, I’ll take good old straightforward Roy Harper over a volatile unknown, any day.


Stray observations

  • That “abandoned casino” was lit like they were getting ready to shoot Riverdale promo photos on it.
  • Salmon ladder watch: hope springs eternal.
  • TAMVP: It’s a silly scene, and I don’t buy for one moment that Oliver would actually believe her — to the point where I think there’s a chance it’s all a put-on — but Stephen Amell sold the honest-to-god hell out of his final scene with Katie Cassidy.
  • At the beginning of the season, Rene was a breath of fresh air. Now, it’s just such a nice change to not hear ‘hoss’ every five minutes.
  • One quick scene with Rene’s kid and not one mention of William this week. Hope he likes Raisa.
  • Next week: the League returns and it’s bad news for Thea. There’s no way it happens, but here’s hoping Arrow convinced Legends of Tomorrow to lend them Caity Lotz for a few days.

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