If you have not seen this episode yet and do not wish to be spoiled, do not continue reading!
Moira introduces Oliver to a new campaign contributor, Mr. Slade Wilson. Stunned that Slade is alive and fully aware of what that could mean for his family, Oliver attempts to give him the cold shoulder to get him to leave, which Moira takes as a personal offense. Thea arrives at the house, as well, and leads them all on a tour of the art on display at the mansion. Oliver calls Felicity at the Arrowcave and leaves the line open. Felicity puts it on speakerphone and Sara catches Slade’s familiar voice. Chilled, Sara explains what’s happening and she, Roy, and Diggle go to the mansion with intention of taking Slade out. Sara and Roy confront Slade with Oliver, but keep things unsaid in front of Moira and Thea. Oliver walks Slade out to his car, with Diggle prepared to assassinate the one-eyed man. Diggle is incapacitated by one of Slade’s men, and Slade informs Oliver that he plans to fulfill a promise he made to him on the island. On the island, Oliver, Sara, and Slade prep to attack Ivo on the freighter. They burn the box of Mirakuru to prevent him from ever getting it. Oliver allows himself to be captured and uses a counteragent to fight the effects of truth serum Ivo gives him. Oliver fakes telling the truth and sets Ivo’s men to go look for Slade and Sara in the engine room while they parachute onto the main deck. An all-out fight breaks loose as Oliver and Sara free the prisoners. Slade attempts to hunt down Ivo, but Oliver gets to him first, planning to kill him at Sara’s suggestion so that Slade can’t find out the truth about Shado. As they talk about it, Slade overhears and turns on Oliver. As Sara escapes with some prisoners, Oliver is captured by Slade, who takes over the boat. He punishes Ivo and makes Oliver a promise that he won’t kill him before putting his life through utter despair.
For a full recap of this episode, visit our handy episode guide.
Tension is the biggest of brushes used to paint this hour out, and it does so in strokes both large and detailed. In fact, for a show that is often built on such energy and moments, this might be the most tension-filled episode the series has yet produced.
In what is, ostensibly, a sequel to the season one episode “The Odyssey,” this chapter focuses as much, if not a bit more, on the past than it does the present. The present timeline is concretely about the announcement to Oliver and Team Arrow just who has been behind events of the season, strictly limited to a few hours in the Queen Mansion. “The Odyssey” had the framing device of Oliver being shot, bringing Felicity in on the secret, and the tech guru and John Diggle trying desperately to save and stabilize his life. It was the first of the show, however, to flip the ratio of the flashbacks to the present, focusing much more on the island timeline and the bond forged between Oliver and new sorta-ally Slade Wilson as they attacked Fyers’ airstrip to bring in a cargo plane to escape.
(If you haven’t seen “The Odyssey,” there are minor spoilers below. And, by all means, check it out. It’s one of the five episodes I would string together — along with “Pilot [Derek’s view],” “Year’s End,” “Dead to Rights,” and “Sacrifice [Derek’s view]” — that perfectly encapsulate the first season.)
Beyond the narrative device, though, there are interesting parallels with that earlier episode. In the first, Oliver found himself at odds with his mother, dressing up as the vigilante to break into her Queen Consolidated office and confront her about her shady dealings. Here, their fractured relationship is put into glaring underscore, though interestingly because of Oliver’s response to Slade and nothing really to do with her. Just as with last week and the horrible way in which Oliver and Moira kept their sourness from Thea, master double-lifer does very little to hide his disdain at seeing his old compadre-cum-adversary. Moira, of course, reads this thoroughly as aggression toward her, which adds further wrinkles to their dynamic.
This episode, of course, bookends the first chapter of Oliver and Slade’s story. The earlier chapter was about the two working together and Slade coming to find some respect and brotherhood in this flimsy neophyte of a partner. Now, we’re witness to the total dissolution of that partnership, and quite compellingly from both cause (in the past) and effect (in the present) standpoints. It’s a very smart choice that this distinct bookend that marks them now being at odds with one another also marks the first time chronologically that we see Oliver put on the green hood and Slade put on his ASIS proto-Deathstroke mask.
What’s really fascinating about the use of tension here is that much of the story has already occured between these two men, these one-time “brothers.” They’ve already experienced everything we have yet to see, and that makes for an intriguing but tough proposition for the storytellers. We have sketches of what happened; the Deathstroke mask on the Lian Yu beach with the arrow through it, Slade’s missing eye, Oliver and Sara believing Slade was dead. Yet, with much more of the past yet to reveal, even just in this season alone, that makes relating this present meeting to the audience uniquely difficult.
It could be argued that it seems somewhat of an odd choice to reveal to Slade in the past Oliver’s involvement in Shado’s death at relatively so “soon” a point. As best as we can tell, Oliver’s still got over three years left on the island before he returns to Starling City. That’s a lot of story left to tell, and yet, here we’re already setting up what appears to be a showdown with Slade by the end of the season. Narratively, though, it fits and flows well, and using that teetering edge as they seek to overthrow Anthony Ivo propulses much of the episode while keeping things twitchy in the present.
Stephen Amell and Manu Bennett have to play those current beats with so much history, stuff they might not fully know yet, and they do so with aplomb. Amell, in particular, looked like a caged cat, both prepared to strike but also waiting for provocation. It’s damn fascinating that Oliver would even consider killing Slade right then and there and have any way of plausibly explaining that to Moira should she return to find the dead body. Both actors are given remarkably meaty ranges to play with here, clearly defining both pre-and post-knowledge selves in the past, as well as coiled and locked enemies of the present. Each knocks it out of the park, and so much of the tension of the episode is believable because it lies within their performances.
That’s utilized to brilliant perfection in another masterful outing by director Glen Winter. Frequent DP for the series, he’s intimately familiar with the world and the relationships and the strengths of everyone involved. He’s as much responsible for crafting this series as anyone, and we’ve mentioned before how it’s always a treat to see him move from the camera chair to the director’s chair. He always likes to experiment and grow the visual language of the series in his directed episodes without breaking the narrative or the trust of the audience. Here, his choices, in conjunction with fabulous editing work, positively live and breathe with tension. That they reserved a large chunk of the budget to recreate the deck and bridge of the freighter to really give perspective and authenticity to the ship scenes and battles speaks highly of what Winter can bring to an episode. They all do terrific work in making sure that everything feels of a piece, perhaps the best synergy of the flashback scenes and current timeline.
One of the more alluring choices — it’s hard to identify if it’s a writing choice, a directing choice, or an acting choice on Bennett’s part, or all three — is how handsy is Slade in the present, for lack of a better word. We come to find out that he’s planting microcameras all over the mansion to monitor the Queens. Yet, his touching extends beyond just the locations he placed the cameras. He’s decidedly tactile with both Moira and Thea, and it’s an insidious choice that accomplishes two tasks. One, it helps to subtly, almost subliminally, mask Slade’s little recon initiative. The other is it constantly plays on the tension of the scene for Oliver and the audience the danger that Slade so close, so intimate with Oliver’s nearest and dearest implies. It’s something very obvious but also meant to be somewhat just out of frame, a skillful way to evoke that danger without conspicuous angles that explicitly define the threat.
While we’ve talked about its connections to “The Odyssey,” “The Promise” is clearly defined as this year’s “Dead to Rights,” as far as impact is concerned. This gets the ball rolling on the rest of the season as it speeds into the finale. Not everything is yet revealed to Oliver, but now he’s aware of the Big Bad. In the past, the adversarial relationship is now set-up with an eye toward the end of Lian Yu Year 2. “The Promise” is just as season-defining as either of those earlier episodes and it definitely whets the appetite as the third act of the season begins.
Hats off to everyone involved. Let’s just keep the eyepatches on from now on.
Odds & Ends
- That delicious moment where Sara arrives on the staircase at Queen Mansion, Slade turns at the familiar voice, and the two lock eye[s].
- Speaking of that moment, Sara’s knife seemed a bit obvious. You’d think either Moira or Thea would’ve seen it and been curious.
- It can’t be said enough how divine it is to have an intelligent baddie who actually has somewhat of a leg up on our heroes. Slade was familiar with everyone on Team Arrow, including Roy. It’s a quality trend that the show continues to push and develop.
- Convenience and/or humor or not, the buttdial on speakerphone was a bit of a clunky way to get Team Arrow involved with what was going on at the mansion.
- It’s a bit daunting the idea that, even with reduced forces, Slade now has himself a little bit of an army by taking over as captain of the Amazo. Even more daunting that he has some Mirakuru left to use.
- The Ivo amputation was an unexpected punishment.
- We know that outside of the Slade storyline, Oliver still has yet to get closely involved with the Bratva. There was a bit of an interesting thrill to see others now on the island with Sara, including Anatoli Knyazev, and what that holds for the future.
- Slade gets shot clean through the gut and barely registers the effects. We still need some clarification on the Mirakuru.
- Great comic references to iconic artists Curt Swan and Joe Kubert, named as two of the artists in the Queen family art collection.