Oh Roy… What is there left to say about the man who would be Arrow? I’m not sure, but we’ll give it a whirl here. Arrow, the TV series, returns after a one week break and a fun diversion of key Arrow characters to Central City in last night’s The Flash. Well, it seems that meta-human trouble followed Felicity and Ray Palmer back from “the fun one” of the Arrow/Flash metropolitan dyad. Aside from that, this episode came complete with black cloud, not because of Oliver’s ongoing police troubles, but because this episode’s long been teased for having, let’s put it this way, a significant departure.
Which brings us back to Roy Harper, the man bound and determined to take the fall for Oliver by convincing the police that he is the Arrow. When you get arrested dressed in a green hood and armed with a bow and arrow, that’s going to be pretty much all the proof the police are going to need, but not Quentin Lance who knows via, shall we say, a “confidential informant” that Oliver is and always has been the Starling City vigilante. Lance’s obsession with proving Oliver’s the Arrow threatens to eat him up, and even his old partner Pike points out that he’s looking like the drunkenly crazy Quentin of old.
So why did Roy confess? Penitence, he’s meant to go to jail for that police officer he killed last year while high on Mirakuru, and if he can’t do time for then that, then he’s going to do time as the Arrow. Although it’s perfectly logical, it’s hard to really buy that justification. The matter’s come up from time to time since Roy got his memory of the cop’s murder earlier this season, but the show’s never played this as an ongoing matter plaguing Roy’s psyche and motivating him in his work as Arsenal. And if it has, he’s been doing a fairly poor job in honor of his inspiration, being interchangeably a punching bag, a hostage, and a human piece of toast.
Not helping the matter is that Colton Haynes, despite his strong physical presence, is not so great at emoting. His jailhouse meeting with Thea is supposed to feel fraught with tension and regret, the possibility of love torn away from the couple who were on the cusp of a happily ever after. Someone forgot to tell Haynes though that he’s supposed to look pained by the possibility that he’ll never see the love of his life again, not slightly annoyed by it.
The emotional heavy-lifting this week is done by Stephen Amell, whose dilemma is perfectly summed up by Felicity when she says that he’s given up everything for the Arrow, and now the Arrow’s been taken away. With the cops convinced that Roy is the Arrow, he can’t go out in public as his alter ego again, the Arrow Cave’s gone thanks to Lance’s reasonably good recall about the “storage area” under the nightclub, and there’s a meta-human with, shall we say, plasma vision, on the loose in Starling City.
If you want someone to play a creepy criminal with powers you can’t do much better than Doug Jones, whose crime wave as Jake Simmons by and large takes a backseat to the intra-team dynamics of the Arrow gang. He definitely leaves a lasting impression though, and proves more than a match for Arrow’s last choice surrogate, Ray Palmer. You’ll note the lack of “backdoor pilot” for the much talked about Arrow/Flash spin-off starring various characters from both shows, including Brandon Routh. I think we can read the back-to-back teams ups of the Flash and Arrow with A.T.O.M. as an effective test of concept, especially as Ray had a much harder time being a hero in Arrow’s world versus the Flash’s.
Poor Oliver meanwhile was confronted again with a partner who leans a bit too much on the gift of his powers (or tech), as opposed to the gifts one gives himself by putting in several hours on the salmon ladder. Oliver warns Ray about the dangers of depending too much on his suit, that he should think of himself as a weapon more than his suit. It’s advice that isn’t quite fully comprehended, but later Oliver does give Ray the right kind of feel good advice he needs to smack Deathbolt right in the kisser. Yes, Cicso joins the festivities just long enough to help his new BFF Ray brainstorm an appropriate code name for Simmons.
The episode was a challenge for Amell in that he wasn’t called upon to use any of his tremendous physical prowess. Instead, Oliver was like a lion in a cage, confined and incapable of acting out to his maximum ability. It causes him to lash out at his closest associates, particularly shocking was when Oliver gets physical with Diggle when his partner tries to stop him from acting rashly to break Roy out of prison. Oliver’s always been a man of action, a man with a plan, In a way, Ra’s al Ghul taking all that away is a much greater breach of identity than his telling Capt. Lance that Arrow and Oliver are one and the same.
I’m reminded of a line said by another Ra’s al Ghul, the one played by Liam Neeson in Batman Begins, “If someone stands in the way of true justice… you simply walk up behind them and stab them in the heart.” It’s a line that underscores the ruthless of being Ra’s, you don’t launch a big, loud and messy frontal attack when you can just play it cool, sidle up and end things with a couple of good thrusts. While someone like Slade Wilson makes their point with theatrical displays of violence, like killing a man’s mother right in front of him, Ra’s will just quietly let you lose everything that matters to you with a couple of arrows and the right words in the right ears.
In the end, Oliver manages to work through Ray to save the city, but it seems to come at the cost of Roy, who after numerous attempts is apparently stabbed to death in Iron Heights. It all seemed rather anti-climactic and rather tidy, so you had to know that it wasn’t possibly true. Nope, Roy lived thanks to the assistance of Diggle and Felicity and a talented ARGUS agent who can convincingly stab people enough to say dead, but can do it in a way that’s really just dead enough. So Roy ends up leaving town to start a new life, which will still likely leave him open for future guest appearances.
So what was all this concern for Roy’s fate in aid of? Time to recall the well-used tool of the screenwriter’s kit, the bait and switch. It’s Roy’s girlfriend Thea that ends up being the next piece in Operation: Make Oliver the Demon’s Head, and now brother and sister Queen have matching sword scars in their chest, as the episode ended with the somewhat shockingly graphic visual of Thea lying in a pool of her own blood. It would have been nice to stew on that development for more than 30 seconds before the preview for next week’s episode practically inferred that Thea will be saved by the Lazarus Pit.
This week’s Arrow had a lot of momentum, but the narrative lacked punch because the things that were supposed to be surprises were not terribly well played. In the meantime, the writers don’t seem to be ver invested in the Ray/Felicity romance because they know, and we know, that he will soon be leaving for spin-off city. And we’re supposed to care about the fate of Roy even though he’s rarely been the most charismatic draw, and has been especially misused this season, lost in a fleet of other ongoing stories.
But at least the show seems committed to the complete tear down of Oliver Queen, and it leaves you wondering just what the show will look like by the end of the season. What is Arrow without Arrow after all?*
*To answer that question in part, stay tuned for my interview with Arrow co-star David Ramsey who offered in our conversation some interesting teases about where the show is going for the rest of season three, and where it might be going in season four.