By John Keegan
For the past few episodes, many fans have felt that the strongest elements of the story were related to Oliver’s flashbacks to his time on the island. Perhaps the writers were well aware of how things were progressing, because this episode feels like a culmination of that process. Oliver has been in a less effective mode since his encounter with Merlyn and Vertigo, and there have been some major developments in his worldview. It makes sense, then, that this latest wound would divert his unconscious mind to a pivotal moment on the island.
Meeting Slade Wilson was clearly a turning point in terms of Oliver’s survival skills. What I appreciate most about this story element is how Oliver doesn’t take to the training quickly or easily. By the time he turns the tables on his enemy and gains that sense of confidence, and Slade’s respect, it is less a matter of skill and more a matter of instinct, driven subconsciously by the drills Slade has put him through. Oliver will still need to develop the awareness and split-second decision-making that comes with mastering close-quarters melee. Considering how many shows have the heroes develop these skills and muscle memories overnight, this is a refreshing change of pace.
Oliver’s hapless exchange in the comm tower is a perfect example of how it should be done. Oliver wants to do his part, but he just doesn’t have the chops yet. But he does have his mind, and it comes in handy at the right time. Was it a bit convenient as written? Maybe, but having Oliver make a minor but nearly fatal mistake in the quote from “The Odyssey” was a nice way to make it work.
It also doesn’t hurt that Manu Bennett is a ridiculously engaging actor, as many might already know from “Spartacus”. This role is proving to American audiences that he is capable of being more than well-toned eye candy. His portrayal of Slade Wilson is tone-perfect as a man of solid special-ops capability and military intelligence, forced into the role of survivalist. Having him not yet be Deathstroke, but rather, the former partner of the man behind the mask, is a great start for him. He still holds his ideals, but it’s easy to see how time and circumstance could force him to become the very thing he hates.
Speaking of which, I have to give kudos to the writing staff for finding a clever way to incorporate so many of the details from the DC comics continuity into the backstory for Slade. Granted, a lot is changed to fit into the mythos of “Arrow”, but it all makes sense. Billy Wintergreen was, in fact, an associate of Slade Wilson, so this is a solid nod to the DC faithful. (I also feel this is a far more natural and logical way to make such references, as opposed to how it was often done on “Smallville”.) Incidentally, Fyers (the head mercenary) is apparently also a fairly substantial figure in Green Arrow lore, so I’m getting more and more intrigued as to how these characters will ultimately work into the overall mythology.
There is clearly someone behind the activities on Purgatory and Fyers’ mercenary takeover of the “prison”, but it didn’t sound like Merlyn to me. That suggests that there is another player on the board, perhaps even someone that is using Merlyn to achieve his goals. Not being all that familiar with the DC mythos, I can’t hazard a guess. But I do like the idea that there is a wider context that encompasses the entire story.
In terms of the “present day” portion of the story, I love the idea of Felicity becoming a semi-member of the Green Arrow support system. She brings an important skill set to the table, but more to the point of this episode, she challenges Dig on a level that Oliver hasn’t. Again, not having her jump into the mission with both feet is a smart character move. Felicity has her own motivations right now, and it is correct to have her actions reflect those motivations.
“Arrow” continues to impress, and I’m gratified that CW saw fit to give the series an early second-season pickup. Not that I had any illusions that this writing staff would be hesitant without a guaranteed extension, but it gives them a more confident position as they prep the episodes for the end of the season.
John Keegan is Editor-in-Chief for Critical Myth, a partner site of SciFi Vision.