Slade Wilson (Manu Bennett) is back on the scene as our second major island flashback unfurls. Unfortunately the conflict between Slade and Oliver (Stephen Amell) is everything I hoped it wouldn’t be.
Let’s bitch it out…
I’m going to come right out and say it: I hated this episode. It filled me with rage and I basically spent the entire time incredibly annoyed. After weeks and weeks of teasing Slade’s return, the show audaciously had him reveal himself to Oliver at the end of last week’s episode. This week Arrow falls back to earth as we spend an hour confirming the completely predictable source of conflict between Oliver and Slade: the latter blames the former for Shado’s (Celina Jade) death.
UGH. When it happened, it was obvious that Shado’s death was the event that drives a wedge between these “brothers.” And you know what? It didn’t make sense then…and it still doesn’t make sense. Obviously the Mirakuru formula is to blame for Slade’s irrationality, but his inability to control his emotions doesn’t make his decision to blame Oliver more interesting or engaging – in fact it just turns him into a supervillain with a stupid raison d’etre. Clearly no one in their right mind would blame Oliver for Shado’s death, which means that we’re meant to believe that Slade is insane.
But how can he be insane and still function as he does? Perhaps that’s an obtuse philosophical question, but I feel like I need to ask it because of the things we see in ‘The Promise’. Slade can carry out civil conversation with Moira (Susanna Thompson) and Thea (Willa Holland), he has insight into the value of art, and he has the foresight to place tiny cameras all over the Queen residence. Add to this the fact that we’re meant to hold him responsible for a series of villainous attacks / plots throughout the second season. I’d compare Slade to the Joker (which is kind of apropriate since Arrow often fashions itself after its DC brethren), but that’s not apt. See the Joker is crazy, but he understands how society works. He creates anarchy to challenge authority and spread dissent, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t understand what is and isn’t appropriate. Slade, on the other hand, is nothing more than a writer’s construct. He’s a man that operates like an intelligent and rational person in every way except one: who is to blame for his lover’s death. And that doesn’t work for me. It’s hilariously specific and unrealistic, but most of all its unsatisfying. It’s like the writers couldn’t come up with a legitimate and compelling reason for Slade to turn into a villain, so they cooked up this half-baked plot with a collective shrug. And it’s beyond frustrating to watch because it ruins the conflict. Each time Slade hisses about making Oliver pay or hurt, it feels disingenuous and false. This is the literal definition of false conflict and now we have to spend the rest of the season watching it play out.
The problem is that the rest of the episode isn’t any better. Despite the attack scenes featuring plenty of extras and explosions, the extended island flashback feels stretched out and poorly paced. The scenes before the freighter attack take far too long which means the attack goes by too quickly (it’s also not very well filmed so it’s really unclear where anyone is). Everything is basically just leading up to the inevitable moment that Slade just happens to conveniently overhear Ivo (Dylan Neal) discuss Oliver’s choice of Sara over Shado. It’s painfully predictable, especially since it plays out exactly how Sara suggests it will. The manner in which events unfold clearly demonstrate how little the Arrow writers respect their viewers’ intelligence.
The scenes in the present are only slightly better. There’s some nice tension when Sara identifies Slade’s voice over the phone and rallies the team, but it all builds up to nothing because there’s no climax. I’m not suggesting that they should have let loose a rocket launcher or something (we’ve got to save something for later), but the fact is that nothing actually happens. Slade walks out and gets into his car and the episode ends. It’s narratively smart because now we can look forward to their next encounter, but as a climax, it kinda blows. Slade now has intel on Oliver’s team because Roy (Colton Haynes) and Sara reveal themselves, but there’s no release because Diggle (David Ramsey) is taken out by Slade’s mysterious ally. So we spend the flashback waiting for the inevitable and the present waiting for nothing. Very exciting!
Clearly ‘The Promise’ is meant to be a big game changing episode that sets up the remainder of the season, but quite frankly I’m pissed. I seriously doubt I’ll enjoy the rest of the season because I simply don’t believe that this conflict is real. Plus you just know that the titular promise Slade plans to fulfill is a reference to the inevitable murder of Sara so we can also look forward to waiting around for that to happen. Colour me unexcited…
- Sara and a motley crew of prisoners escape the ship, including preacher Thomas Flynn (James Pizzinato) and Russian Anatoli Kynyazev (David Nyki). It could be interesting to see how Sara’s story proceeds since we don’t know a) why Oliver thinks she died on the island, b) how she ended up in the League of Assassins and c) what happens to Thomas or Anatoli.
- Ivo isn’t dead yet, though he has had his hand cut off. I’m fine with this, but I don’t understand why his hand was shaking when he had the gun pointed at Oliver. It wasn’t an issue when he shot Shado, so why is it an issue now? Also, does anyone care that his excuse for his actions is a sick wife? Is that meant to provide him with depth, or make us feel like he’s less of an A-hole? ‘Cause it ain’t working.
- I feel like Slade’s modern day accomplice is Blood (Kevin Alejandro), but since we don’t see the ally’s face, perhaps we should assume it’s someone we’ve already met who’s team Bad Guy? Is there a CTU mole?
- Finally, is Slade and Sara’s parachute glide onto the freighter the most laughable moment of the episode? That was right up there with Pierce Brosnan’s tsunami surfing scene in Die Another Day. Bad, bad, bad.
- Oliver (when Slade chastises him for missing his mark): “There’s a breeze”
- Sara (to Diggle, after she recognizes Slade’s voice): “What’s the biggest gun you have down here?”
- Felicity (to Sara, in a pinched tone): “Please save Oliver!”
- Oliver (to Slade, as Roy and Sara surround him): “So, what would you like to do now…Mr. Wilson?”
Your turn: were you as frustrated by the unreasonably false conflict between Slade and Oliver? Did you enjoy the freighter action scenes? Were you annoyed that things went down exactly as Sara predicted? Did the present day scenes underwhelm because they built to nothing? And who is Slade’s ally? Sound off below.
Arrow airs Wednesdays at 8pm EST on The CW