Warning: major spoilers ahead for Episode 6 of Arrow Season 4 ahead.
Arrow’s sixth episode of Season 4 – entitled “Lost Souls” – saw the resolution of the mystery of just what happened to Ray Palmer and how exactly the man in the knockoff Iron Man suit could have possibly survived an explosion so devastating that none of the best and brightest scientific minds of Star City were surprised that there was no body. As it turns out, the answer was right in front of us the entire time: nanotech.
When last Ray was seen, an entire floor of a building had blown up in his face; if not for a spinoff scheduled to premiere in early 2016 starring Brandon Routh as the Atom, we really might have believed that Ray had uttered his last “B.T.W.” and had died as he had lived: heedlessly tinkering with highly combustible materials. As there is in fact such a spinoff scheduled to premiere in early 2016, it was only a matter of time before we would discover just what happened to save Ray from blowing himself into smithereens.
As we learned in "Lost Souls," he pretty much just blew himself into a single smithereen and then proceeded to be held captive by supervillain Damien Darhk. The nanotech tinkering that caused the explosion also saved his life by shrinking him to the size of – to quote Felicity Smoak - a “tater tot.”
Now, Ray Palmer was hardly the most popular character to come out of Season 3 of Arrow, and an episode about a man-sized tater tot might have had wider appeal to it than an episode about a tater tot-sized Ray. Tater tots are always delicious; Ray Palmer was not. Both are fun to imagine pelting with salt.
Audience divisiveness aside, however, Ray’s plot was going to need to be resolved sooner rather than later, and using the nanotech from back in Season 3 was the right way to do it. “Lost Souls” avoided giving too exact an explanation of how big Ray became tiny Ray by having Felicity not bother to try to explain molecular physics to the guy who has only read one book and the lawyer who rarely even practices law. But there’s a real sort of poetic justice in the fact that Ray got his powers due to a lab accident of his own making rather than out of any miraculous success. If the Ray Palmer of spinoff Legends of Tomorrow is going to be more enjoyable than the Ray Palmer of Season 3 of Arrow, he needed a hefty helping of humble pie. What could be more humbling than spending six months trying to play "Honey, I Shrunk Myself!" with an absent Felicity while fending off cockroaches?
All in all, it’s a huge relief that the resolution to the mystery of Ray Palmer came all in one episode. The nanotech being the reason for his survival is the perfect way to start off a new and independent origin story for the Atom without making the character reliant on Arrow for the rest of his run in the CW’s comic universe.
Arrow airs on Wednesday nights at 8 p.m. ET on The CW.