Audrey Marie Anderson and David Ramsey in ARROW - Season 2 - "Keep Your Enemies Closer" | ©2013 The CW/Diyah Pera

Audrey Marie Anderson and David Ramsey in ARROW - Season 2 - "Keep Your Enemies Closer" | ©2013 The CW/Diyah Pera

Stars:  Stephen Amell, Katie Cassidy, Paul Blackthorne, Susanna Thompson, Willa Holland, David Ramsey, Emily Bett Rickards, Manu Bennett, Colton Haynes, Celina Jade, Summer Glau, Caity Lotz, Bex Taylor-Klaus, Kevin Alejandro
: Ben Sokolowski & Beth Schwartz
:  Guy Bee
The CW, airs Wednesday Nights
Original Telecast
: November 13, 2013

My criticisms of ARROW since this season began, (nay, since this series began), have fallen into two general categories.  They are, invariably: “X is too dark to belong in a TV show based on a comic book” or “Y involves too much comic book ridiculousness to belong in a TV show.”  When ARROW gets close to either pole, as it did in last week’s dreary episode “League of Assassins,” it’s usually a problem.  But when ARROW threads the needle just right, and stays safely positioned between the extremes of lightness and heaviness, as it does this week in “Keep Your Enemies Closer,” the results are usually pretty good.

As is the norm for this show, “Keep Your Enemies Closer” frontloads with a ton of plot jammed in before the first commercial break.

We begin when Roy Harper (Colton Haynes) puts an arrow into the agreed upon space in an alley wall to let the Hooded Vigilante (or The Arrow, if you prefer) that there’s a situation that requires his specific brand of vigilantism.  The Arrow, the hooded alter ego of Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell), quickly finds Roy, who has staked out a hiding place in order to watch some unnamed and unremarkable criminals make an exchange of cash for counterfeit printing plates.  The Arrow tells Roy to stay put while he takes down the criminals, which he does with the assistance of his partner, John Diggle (David Ramsey), who’s also watching the action from afar and giving Oliver logistical support via a radio earpiece. However, once the criminals are taken care of, things get confusing as a separate group of masked men appear and capture Diggle using a stun gun.

Diggle finds himself the prisoner of Amanda Waller (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) an Agent of a government organization called A.R.G.U.S., who tells Diggle that their fellow Agent, Lyla Michaels (Audrey Marie Anderson), (and Diggle’s budding/erstwhile love interest), has gone missing in Moscow after tracking the assassin Deadshot (Michael Rowe) there.  She also tells him she knows how he and Oliver Queen have been “spending their nights,” which means she has leverage over him in that she knows his “secret identity.”  In the end she lets him go so he can go to Moscow and try to find Lyla, who was following Deadshot, the man who killed Diggle’s brother, on Diggle’s behalf.  In retrospect, this scene is preposterous, since they didn’t need to kidnap him to tell him any of this, and the events leading up to the kidnapping are muddled and confusing, (who were those counterfeiters again?), but I’m not sure it matters because all the kidnapping needed to do is to keep this exposition sequence from getting boring, which it did for the most part.  Afterwards, Diggle tells Oliver and Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) that he needs to take some time off from their vigilante activities to go find Lyla in Moscow.  Oliver wants to help his friend, though, and he tells Felicity that it’s time for them to visit Queen Consolidated’s Russian subsidiary on official business, as a cover story, so they can assist Diggle with his rescue attempt.  (It occurred to me at this point that I actually have no idea what Queen Consolidated builds or does, besides coming up with the occasional earthquake machine, or why they’d have a Moscow subsidiary.  Maybe someday ARROW will tell us, but it’s probably not that important).

In any event, Oliver, Diggle, and Felicity are set to take the company’s private jet to Moscow, but Isabel Rochev (Summer Glau), Oliver’s new business partner, who’s become increasingly concerned about Oliver’s frequent tardiness and absences, decides she needs to go with them to make sure Oliver’s not just screwing around on company time, (literally and figuratively, because she tells Oliver that there’s a rumor going around the company that he’s having relations with Felicity, his pretty, blonde assistant who was mysteriously transferred out of the IT Department recently, and is constantly at his side). It was actually kind of charming that this awkward development didn’t occur to Oliver as a possibility before he transferred Felicity, and it was fun to see him get called out for it.

Speaking of kidnappings and exposition, we also get a flashback to the freighter/island storyline from six years prior.  Younger Oliver is the captive of both the freighter’s Captain (Jimmy Jean-Louis) and Anthony Ivo (Dylan Neal) the (mad) scientist who seems to be giving the orders on the freighter.  While Younger Oliver is shocked to learn that Younger Sara Lance (Caity Lotz) is A) Alive, and B) Apparently Ivo’s right hand woman now, he’s suddenly got bigger problems, in that Ivo seems to be obsessed with the Japanese WWII era submarine that ran aground on Lian Yu Island, and contained the misshapen skeletons that he and his friends, Slade Wilson (Manu Bennett) and Shado (Celina Jade) found earlier.  Ivo explains that every country during the war was working on its “secret weapon,” and Japan’s was a serum called “Miracuru” (?), (meaning “Miracle”), that would genetically enhance humans and create super-soldiers.  (Where would comic books be without serum that creates super-soldiers, by the way?  If we lived in a comic book universe, the government’s budget would be 1/3 Social Security, 1/3 Medicare, and 1/3 making serum for super-soldiers.  But I digress).  Ivo intends to break Oliver so that he can find that submarine, which he believes contains the lost serum.

The introduction of the concept of super-soldier serum is actually one of two ways ARROW announces that it intends to broaden its universe to include things that could be considered “supernatural” this week, presumably to bring its universe more in line with that of DC Comics.  The other is a brief scene of Oliver and Felicity watching a TV segment that shows a protester complaining vigorously about how dangerous the new Particle Accelerator that is about to be switched on in Starling City could potentially be, (and totally will be).  Hopefully neither of these elements leads to a reframing of the ARROW universe to allow for a widening supply of super-villains with godlike powers.  To this point the plausibility of the scope and scale of ARROW’s superhero and super-villain abilities has been just about perfect, (with a few hiccups here and there when the things get too far-fetched, as with Sara’s implausible resurrection), and introducing more potential suspension-of-disbelief issues when the stories become more fantastical seems like a recipe for trouble.

One thing I am willing to suspend disbelief on, however, because it really helps out this episode, is the fact that Oliver spent time on the freighter with Russian Mafia figure, (and new character), Anatoly Knyazev (David Nykl), and now has ties to the Russian mob, who are willing to help Oliver and Diggle locate Lyla.  (ARROW actually planted Knyazev’s name and Oliver’s Russian fluency last season, which makes this new development go down a lot smoother).  Apparently Younger Oliver saved Younger Knyazev’s life and now its time for Oliver to reap the rewards.  We learn that Lyla’s being held in one of Russia’s worst prisons, although she didn’t go there because she was arrested; she was trying to break in.  The only way to break her out is for a rescuer to get purposely arrested and sent there, and Diggle knows that that person must be him.  But before Diggle impersonates a drug smuggler to get sent to prison, he reveals to Oliver and Felicity that Lyla was more to him than just a friend – she was his wife.  They broke up while he was still at war in Afghanistan, but clearly there’s a torch that’s still burning there.  That’s less improbable than the fact that he gets arrested and sent to a maximum-security prison on the same calendar day, but I’m still willing to go with it for the sake of the story.

“Keep Your Enemies Closer” features two major developments from here on in:  One is that Diggle’s brief stay in this prison leads to a pretty standard chow-line/dining area prison brawl between him and some skinheads.  Diggle, of course, wins the fight, but the guards throw him into “the cold room,” where he’s chained to a pipe for seven hours in freezing conditions.  ARROW gives us a really nice head-fake when the other prisoner chained across from him, who we hadn’t initially been focusing on, turns out to be Deadshot.  Apparently Lyla was chasing him into the prison, and things didn’t work out so well, and now she’s trapped there.  Deadshot taunts Diggle, but he can’t reach him and is not in a position to stop him from twisting the knife in further about the fact that he killed his brother.

While Diggle’s having a rough go of it, however, things are going okay for Oliver, as he has late night vodka’s back at the hotel with Isabel.  The ensuing seduction scene, where Isabel reveals that she knows Oliver is only pretending to be a lazy idiot, has some of the best dialogue of the entire series, and really deepens the mystery of Isabel’s character, and what role she’s ultimately going to play this season.  The two of them pay the check and go to his room, and the next morning Felicity discovers them together, and she’s stunned and surprisingly hurt by it.  This was a nice moment as well, since we weren’t really privy to the depth of Felicity’s feelings for Oliver before, since her comic relief function sort of masks them, but it was very touching to see both characters so vulnerable to one another.  Oliver explains to her that because of the lifestyle he leads, he should never get close to someone he “could really care about” in that way.  Isabel wasn’t looking for more than a one-night stand, so hooking up with her wasn’t a problem for him, (although it almost certainly will be later).  Felicity tells him “I think you deserve better than her,” which is pretty touching.

Meanwhile, Diggle must make an uneasy allegiance with Deadshot to escape the prison.  The escape plan has just the right amount of action and intrigue, and the whole sequence works pretty well, as Oliver, Knyazev, and Felicity are able to spirit Diggle, Lyla, and Deadshot to safety after their hidden bomb blows a hole in the prison wall.  (Although if you were inclined to think about the (not-explicitly-evil-although-certainly-not-wonderful) prison guards who were killed in the explosion, and their families, there’s definitely an opening to find the whole thing morally reprehensible if you wanted to).  In the end, Diggle has the opportunity to kill Deadshot, but can’t bring himself to do it.  In exchange, Deadshot tells him that he didn’t kill Diggle’s brother on accident while targeting someone else – his brother was the target.  When asked who hired him to kill the brother, Deadshot’s response is one syllable:  “H.I.V.E.”  Then he walks away, (to murder for hire again, presumably).  Later, the continuation of Diggle’s search for answers about his brother’s killing involves him typing “H.I.V.E.” into the Bing search engine, (because Microsoft’s product placement on ARROW is near-omnipresent this season).  But we don’t learn yet what he finds.

Back on the freighter/island, we also learn that Slade and Shado survived the initial missile attack by Ivo’s forces, but that Slade suffered severe burns to his face, and that he’s also got a thing for Shado, and was probably not thrilled that she had chosen Younger Oliver over him, given a deserted island scenario where the two of them were the only males available.  But even after surviving the first assault, Slade and Shado are still in danger.  After Younger Sara tricks Younger Oliver into contacting them via radio, (with the cover story that she was going to let him warn them that they’re in danger), he unwittingly reveals their numbers and their position to the crew of the freighter, and they are now looking at impending missile attack number two.  Younger Sara’s betrayal is a nice reversal, because we’ve just seen a later version of Sara in the previous episode whom Oliver’s obviously close to, and has forgiven for this act, so they took advantage of our pre-conceptions about her character to get us to believe she was actually going to help Oliver.

Overall this episode was fast-paced and fun, and a nice setup for future episodes, with bigger mysteries planted for later, and a flashback timeline that finally feels like it’s going somewhere interesting.  “Keep Your Enemies Closer” was also very tightly plotted but left room for solid action sequences and some satisfying character development.  If ARROW can keep itself on this path going forward, it’s going to be a very entertaining season.

Related: TV Review: ARROW – Season 2 – “League of Assassins”

Related: Exclusive interview with ARROW star Paul Blackthorne on Season 2

Related: TV Review: ARROW – Season 2  – “Crucible”

Related: TV Review: ARROW – Season 2  – “Broken Dolls”

Related: TV Review: ARROW – Season 2  – “Identity”

Related: TV Review: ARROW – Season 2  – “City of Heroes”

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Article: TV Review: ARROW – Season 2 – “Keep Your Enemies Closer”

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