Killing is easy. Saving a life is hard. Because make no mistake, Oliver Queen has killed people. He doesn’t put boxing gloves on the ends of his arrows. He may not enjoy the act of killing specifically, but there seems little doubt that the he enjoys the rush the vigilante life affords him, especially when he must remain lonely and detached in his civilian life. And while “Arrow” has played fast and loose with the “no killing” trope usually found with comic book crimefighters, the show has kept a keen focus on the fact that its hero, whatever his plans or intentions, still has a lot to learn. And the one-two punch of “Muse of Fire” and “Vendetta” have presented the most absorbing examination of what makes Oliver tick and set the high watermark for the series to date. Best of all, it pulls this off without any flashbacks or clunky voiceovers.
Green Arrow never hooked up with Huntress in the comics. I don’t mention this as a negative against the show, I just wanted to bring it up to illustrate how surprising it is that the two of them hit it off so well, even as they hew very close to the characterization of their comic counterparts. Typically, Huntress comes into the picture long after Green Arrow has been established, so there was always too significant an age difference to even entertain the idea of romance between them. But by pairing them up in Oliver’s early years, the writers found a way not only to introduce another popular comics character into the show’s mythology, but to cleverly use the show’s superhero motifs to explore the pitfalls of two damaged people trying to start a relationship, especially when one hopes to “fix” the other. The writers could’ve simply fallen back on the overused “revenge vs. justice” debate to power the entire two-part story (and there is plenty of that discussion at hand), but wisely recognized that the emotional journey was far more interesting and was better aligned to the show’s strengths.
The main plot finds Oliver on the trail of a vigilante who’s been gunning down associates of mobster Frank Bertinelli (Jeffrey Nordling, cast cooly against type) after Oliver’s mother is nearly killed in the crossfire. His investigation leads him to meet the boss’s daughter Helena (Jessica De Gouw), who turns out to be the culprit, seeking revenge on her old man for ordering her fiance’s murder. It doesn’t take long for Helena to learn Oliver’s secret as well, after one of her father’s enforcers captures both her and Oliver and they fight their way free. Chyna White (Kelly Hu) also reappears as Helena works to set the Triad and her father’s organization against each other.
In B-plot territory, we finally learn the identity of the well-dressed man who’s always meeting with Moira: it’s Malcolm Merlyn, Tommy’s father, a revelation that’s a little hard to swallow given the scant 15-year difference between the two actors (not to mention how magnificently John Barrowman ages). Tommy finds that he’s been cut off from his inheritance (on a dinner date with Laurel, no less), and Malcolm doesn’t offer much explanation beyond that he’s a dick. While Tommy was always something of a cad, we never got a sense that he was some do-nothing slob who threw his cash around like candy, so the wake-up call aspect of this little twist isn’t a perfect fit. Besides at last showing us another side of Tommy, this new reveal does finally gives us a hint of where his story may be headed. Because Captain Jack has to be on the list, right?
For the second part, “Vendetta”, Oliver gets his flirt on while making an earnest attempt to show Helena a more constructive path to vengeance, even going so far as to upgrade her outfit with a cool crossbow and domino mask. Several subplots converge when Oliver and Helena wind up on an improptu double date with Tommy and Laurel. I expect we’ll look back fondly on this seemingly mundane scene after everyone involved has assumed a costumed alter ego. But with the present, things quickly get out of hand. Tommy’s pride is wounded when Oliver learns that he’s broke, and Helena is unable to effectively process sharing a table with Oliver’s ex-girlfriend, showing that she’s crazier than Oliver was willing to admit.
While De Gouw’s line readings often leave something to be desired, Helena is so effectively characterized that it’s easy enough to overlook the performance and enjoy the story, especially when she has fine chemistry with Stephen Amell, who is fully capable of picking up the slack. The scene where he admits to Diggle that he allowed himself to fall for Helena because he “felt the universe owed him one”, is some of the best acting we’ve seen from Amell yet.
And let’s not forget the C-story; Moira’s injury prompts a return by Walter from his trip abroad, who quickly picks up right where he left off with investigating the conspiracy surrounding the Queen’s Gambit wreckage. With the help of Felicity Smoak, he soon comes across a small booklet of Moira’s filled with blank pages, and Felicity finds some swanky science goggles that reveal the invisible ink of The List. While I’m mildly intrigued with how this mystery is unfolding, there was an exceptional moment where Walter warns Felicity of the potential danger by bringing up his head of security that was killed while investigating this stuff, to which Felicity offers a simple and direct, “I don’t like mysteries.”
Things escalate quickly as Helena guns down several Triad lieutenants to finally spark the looming gang war, and Chyna White wastes no time with storming the Bertinelli mansion. I love that the writers are finding more complicated scenarios for Oliver to navigate, in this case fighting through a fully escalated mob/Triad showdown to stop Helena from taking revenge on her Dad. Would the Oliver from the pilot, who snapped a goon’s neck to protect his secret, have even thought to protect the life of a guilty man like this? I don’t believe he would. And even though Helena is in the wind by episode’s end and much of the status quo is restored, it feels like the show has taken a big step forward, because Oliver himself isn’t quite the same as he was at the start.
- Oliver really needs a proper mask. It’s gotta be easier to slip on a domino mask than it is to apply that green facepaint. I’m sure those applied science shades that Walter and Felicity were tooling with would look good on him.
- Two-to-one says Malcolm is the copycat dark archer in next week’s fall finale. Oliver will have no choice but to kill him, Tommy will swear Harry Osborn-style vengeance, cycle complete.