By: Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg, Geoff Johns, Ben Sokolowski (story)
The Story: This will teach Oliver to distrust the life-saving powers of rat poison.
The Review: I still get a little mental jolt every time I encounter a decidedly non-comic-booky person who says he or she loves Arrow. As delighted as I am, it’s all I can do to stop myself from asking suspiciously, “Why?” The popularity of superhero movies, each one a massive dose of generally undemanding escapism, I can understand. A TV show requires a certain amount of commitment, so how does Arrow earn it without playing on pure fanship?
For this episode, I tried looking at it through the lens of someone who had little to no connection with the DCU or its mythology at all, which was perhaps bad timing on my part. Arrow has long outgrown throwing in the obligatory Easter Eggs; DC mainstays now make up a significant demographic of the show’s population, and it’s not just second or third-tier figures, either. Here, the show is clearly confident enough to take on the big leagues, from the return of Deathstroke (with eye-patch, most importantly), the birth of Solomon Grundy, and Barry Allen’s transformation into the Flash—and you don’t get any bigger than that.
The fact that Arrow was entrusted with such an important moment of DC history says something about the show’s respect for its source material and its production values, and this episode’s delivery proves it. Between the blackout sweeping Central City from the site of the doomed particle accelerator, the chemicals in Barry’s lab floating from their beakers, and the legendary bolt of lightning itself, a fan gets all the tingling magic he wanted to see from a Flash origin story done in live-action.
Before we get too carried away, let’s remember this is a show about Green Arrow, who gets his own moment of superhero glory in the episode. Ollie putting on the domino mask is, in practical terms, only a marginal improvement over the eye make-up, but for fans of the comic book icon, this is the moment when the character they love is truly born. For everyone else, they can at least appreciate what the mask means for Ollie’s status in Starling City. Felicity, as she often does, says it best. After he puts on the mask, he asks how he looks. “Like a hero,” she says.
But more than symbolism gives power to that moment. There’s also over a season’s worth of emotional growth Ollie has to his name, culminating in demons—or “ghosts,” rather—he wrestles in this episode. It’s easy, given the melodrama which always characterizes Ollie’s time on the island, to underestimate the toll that experience took on him. His visions of Shado and Slade (and the especially traumatic events of this week’s island flashbacks) force us to recognize that Ollie has bigger, less obvious scars than those left on his machine-formed abs. Ollie may be the consummate survivor,* and it may not have been Barry’s injection of rat poison that brought on his hallucinations, but he still needed to purge himself of all that equally toxic psychological weight to truly live.
Unfortunately, the writers can’t help resorting to quite a bit of blunt schmaltz to get him there. (And with Johns on staff, how could they avoid it?) Spoiler alert—while Tommy’s guest spot, even as an imaginary figment, is a welcome one, the speech he makes to Ollie is so directly redemptive and encouraging as to feel more like wishful thinking on Ollie’s part. It’s hard not to feel a little squeamish when Tommy insists, “I know I called you a murderer, but you are not—you’re a hero.” It just seems too much like the writers want to wipe clean Ollie’s list of kills from the first season to make his transition into pure heroism that much easier.
This is a lot of talk about Ollie, but the episode continues the show’s tradition of making the supporting cast as crucial to its success as he is. This is no longer the case of Ollie calling the shots, with Felicity and Diggle resentfully submitting. When Felicity refuses to back down in the face of Ollie’s misplaced rage at Barry discovering his identity, even countermanding his threats to shoot the poor scientist, and when Diggle firmly takes point on an intelligence mission with Ollie his willing back-up, it shows how Ollie’s two wingmen have become his equals. All the more fitting that they are the only ones present when he finally does put on the mask.
Yet the show has also found purpose for all its other characters as well. Both Thea and Roy become ever more enmeshed in the vigilante’s world in this episode, and Officer Lance has come so far as to accept lead a legit crime-fighting op in the vigilante’s place when Ollie confesses that he’s been compromised. Even Dinah gets something to do that doesn’t involve compromising her integrity any further. These are things you can enjoy and get invested in without any comic book knowledge whatsoever, which is perhaps Arrow’s greatest achievement of all.
Conclusion: A gem of an episode for both the Green Arrow fans and those who still only know him as Oliver Queen, “the vigilante.” A satisfying way to break for the holidays and build anticipation for the year to come.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: * With this latest escape from the injuries inflicted by Cyrus Gold (a.k.a. the future Mr. Grundy), that makes how many times Ollie came near death and lived?
– Miffed at discovering that Sarah wasn’t the only female Ollie spent time with on the island, Felicity asks a bit waspishly, “How many women were you marooned with? You sure this wasn’t Fantasy Island?” Felicity, this is the one time when your joke is truly inappropriate. Still funny, though.
– All in all, while the latest Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had the more impressive fight choreography, Arrow definitely conveyed Gold’s superstrength with a lot more credible horror.