David Ramsey (Jack Rowand/The CW)

Arrow isn’t a series known for its sunniness. It’s not high on anyone’s list of relentlessly optimistic properties. When a person needs cheering up, odds are it’s not Arrow that’s first in the queue, and it’s probably not second, either.. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s broody and dark, and that broodiness is a quality about which it seems to be self-aware, at least occasionally. On Arrow—and on most long-running dramas, honestly—it’s best to be suspicious of happy endings. Such things can never last, because this is Arrow, and that shit is grim.

That’s why it’s such a pleasant and messed-up surprise to be conned, even just a little bit, by “Next Of Kin.” Your mileage may vary, of course, but the seemingly happy ending of this hour seems plausible in part because it doesn’t ever feel inevitable. Watching John Diggle freeze again, lose the trust of the team he now leads, and dive deep into doubt? That’s all classic Arrow. It’s the turnaround that’s unexpected, complete with an almost warm and fuzzy champagne toast. Diggle’s success, and the team’s, feels hard-won, and so their celebration doesn’t play as doomed. And that lack of doom makes the new Green Arrow’s final scene, telegraphed throughout the episode, somehow still a surprise. This is Arrow, so the honeymoon could never last forever. But did it have to be so damn short?

After Oliver’s opening voiceover identifies Diggle as the Green Arrow, we jump right into one of Diggle’s first missions as team leader. It goes well, and everything seems jolly (to everyone but Dinah, anyway.) The only concern seems to be that John’s not suing arrows, but when that’s the big worry, things are probably all right. That changes when Onyx (Chastity Dotson) and her team of former CIA operatives steal information concerning the shipment of chemical weapons. With the stakes much higher, the team heads out, and they get their asses handed to them. Some of that is probably inevitable, but the rest results from Diggle’s failure to act. Rene’s faith in the team is understandably shaken—Diggle did get almost get him killed in the season premiere—and while Dinah puts on a good show of support, she’s more interested in team cohesion than she is in helping John save his own ass.

Throughout and from afar, Oliver continues to support Diggle, but after a visit from a seriously worked up Rene—and seriously, when the hell did WIld Dog become the most stable member of Team Arrow?—Oliver heads back to the bunker to talk to his friend. This is where “Next Of Kin” most clearly draws a parallel between today’s John Diggle and the Oliver Queen of the past. Diggle’s brooding in a bunker and questioning his abilities and decency; Oliver’s there, telling him he’s a good man and a capable leader and that he just needs to get out of his head. Arrow knows that it’s just turning the chess board around, and Diggle and Oliver seems to know it, too. And as it nearly always does, the speech works, and Diggle heads out to save thousands of lives with his confidence back in place.

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After all that, how could the mission not go well? It does, lives saved, trust restored, team newly reinvigorated. Either you, like me, are sucker enough to believe that’s how the hour will close, or unlike me, you expected the penny to drop pretty much right away. It’s the latter category that’s proven right, as Diggle turns up in a spooky old alley to buy some sort of injectable drug and fill his bloodstream with it. John might have his head back in the game, mentally speaking, but obviously he’s still a wreck in most every other department.

Of course he is, he’s the Green Arrow. Stephen Amell’s even more understated than usual over the course of this hour, and no matter how much progress he makes, or doesn’t, with William and Felicity, it’s worth noting that he’s still a man buried by guilt who has no real sense of the best way to bridge an emotional divide. It seems fitting that as he inherits the outfit, he also inherits the baggage. Don’t worry, there’s plenty. Maybe some of it will go nicely with whatever drug he’s taking to control his tremor.

Elsewhere, Felicty and Curtis are still trying to come up with a business name, Quention attempts to bypass a Senator who has been drafting an anti-mutant piece of legislation, and Samanda still doesn’t believe a word he says. It’s all fine, but the best parts are all about John Diggle, picking up another man’s cowl and realizing he’s not up for the job. That’s what makes this episode a solid hour’s entertainment: it knows exactly what it’s doing, and keeps the focus on the characters, not the mechanics of plot. Of course John couldn’t get a happy ending, but the fact that he gets it together due largely to an inspirational speech from Nathan is so perfectly in keeping with Arrow that I can’t really believe I didn’t see the final moment march up.

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Arrow might be grim, but it has a sense of humor about itself. More importantly, its writers seem much more determined to focus on people for plot, and not the reverse. Not a perfect episode, but a good one, and sometimes a surprising one. That’s good enough for me.

Stray observations

  • Kevin Tancharoen directed this episode, and thus, also directed one of the best fights I’ve seen on The CW. That battle outside the car is visually really cool.
  • Also cool: Diggle dives off a building, only to be propelled onto the roof of another building via Canaty Cry.
  • I always forget how laid-back Arrow is abpit killing off red-shirts, even when they’re previously positioned as comic relief.
  • Shoutout to everyone in the comments last week who thought that it wasn’t that Oliver and Diggle had a mutual understanding that two parents were better than one, but that Oliver just straight-up forgot that Diggle has a kid.
  • Welcome back, Officer Lopez.

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