If you have not seen this episode yet and do not wish to be spoiled, do not continue reading!
At Felicity’s suggestion, Team Arrow raids Queen Consolidated Applied Sciences and blows up the building to prevent Slade from mass producing the Mirakuru. Slade responds by infiltrating the Arrowcave, beating the team up as a diversion to steal William Tockman’s skeleton key device. Slade uses the device to break into the S.T.A.R. Labs facility to commandeer a blood transfusion machine that allows a host to send blood to multiple recipients. Felicity can trace the device when it gets put to use but it will give them a short window to go after Slade. This gets in the way of Oliver trying to repair things with Thea. Confronting Isabel to learn where Slade is, Oliver learns that his father knew that Thea was Malcolm’s daughter and that he’d originally planned to run off with Isabel but chose his family instead. When the device goes active, Oliver tracks it down and discovers that Roy is being used to transfuse his blood into the fugitive convicts. Oliver fights off Slade and Isabel, freeing Roy while Diggle puts two in Isabel’s chest. Using a sample of Roy’s blood, Felicity extracts Mirakuru and turns it over to friends of Barry Allen from S.T.A.R. Labs in Central City to synthesize a cure Oliver and Sara learned about from Ivo. Slade uses his blood to revive Isabel. Meanwhile, Laurel questions her dad to prove if Oliver is the Arrow. She realizes that Sara is the Canary. Instead of revealing she knows, she decides to protect their secrets.
For a full recap of this episode, visit our handy episode guide.
‘The Man Under the Hood’ presents, or rather fully demonstrates, an interesting dynamic of this second season of Arrow, particularly in this latter half. The show is notoriously built on an edict of burning through plot, not holding things back when they naturally appear in a story and push the overall narrative forward. They’ve not shied away from that in the least, but they’ve also really slowed things down to focus on the effects of the highly-strained relationship between Oliver Queen and Slade Wilson. It’s an intoxicating mix that would, on the surface, seem to be at odds but actually makes for a very potent fixation that identifies this as the most defining relationship of Oliver’s life.
What seemed initially like a whiz-bang MacGuffin, the Mirakuru super soldier formula has actually become a linchpin in defining not just this season but the tone and thrust of the show. In a funny way, and certainly in somewhat of an ironic one, a show that was so dedicated to telling a superhero story in a rooted, grounded, ever-so-slightly hyper-realistic way has actually flourished by allowing more of those fantastical elements in. The bonus is that it has made Oliver more of a grounded, earnest, and relatable character. (Uh oh, it’s the dreaded “relatable” tag that has helped or hindered approaches to genre material over the last few years.) Actually, it’s not a bonus as this is a key element of the series, what makes it work, and why that working has caused a number of critics to label this the best television adaptation of the genre and, in some cases, the best live-action superhero adaptation period.
With the pillars of Oliver’s “normal” life all now crumbling, in a sense, he’s brought back to where he was during his time on the island, which actually serves to make the flashback scenes even more simpatico with everything going on in the present this season. It’s had two effects on him, one to make him more feral, like an animal reestablishing its natural habits and instincts after being in captivity; and the other to make him more vulnerable and introspective in a way that he’s pulling all of the important things in his life as close to him as possible. This has been an absolute boon for the series as Stephen Amell continues to shed layers, become more raw, and find amazing depth, concern, and import in the quiet moments. Many might not appreciate it as it’s not one of the flashier aspects of acting, but it’s one of the most important as it creates an identifiable bond with the audience. It allows us to sympathetically connect with Oliver without overtly asking us to do so, and the payoff is a strong investment in the dangers and stakes of what’s going on with him and around him. It’s something that has been evident in the last few episodes and sets another apex here, and is really serving to make this one of the more satisfying dramas on television period.
The pleasure of this quiet build comes to a head here as Oliver and company finally decide to strike out at Slade’s efforts. The stealthy assault on the Applied Sciences building that opened the episode, a nice bit of contrast with last season when Oliver played ostentatiously drunk at the public groundbreaking of the building, was desperate and scrappy, bringing in that feral flavor. Despite some of the comic relief, it set a very conspicuous tone for the whole hour and lent well to that feeling of an almost island-like existence for Oliver in Starling City now. Just like the island, every move he makes seems to have a counter move that piles on the oppressive feeling of everything getting worse. Team Arrow takes out Applied Sciences, so Slade comes in and steals the skeleton key, managing to hand them their asses in the process. He gets hold of the multi-stream blood transfusion device — something that sounds patently unsafe in any appropriate medical situation — and then we come to find it’s Roy who Slade is pumping to birth his army. Isabel not only takes the company but she had an extensive relationship with Robert Queen, who turns out was fully aware of Thea’s parentage. Telling Thea that and that Robert chose to stay with the family and hold her as his own daughter only serves to destroy the trust of that relationship for Thea, and she leaves.
Everything escalates here, building a craggy and inevitable path to confrontation with Slade to close out the season. Most important, all of the escalation feels very character-oriented. It’s quite an intriguing way to approach the season and it really kind of sneaked up on us all.
Perhaps the most character-oriented development of the episode was the marvelous way in which they handled Laurel’s dealing with Slade’s reality bomb from the tail end of last week. The smartest choice here was having her put all of the pieces together herself rather than just marching straight to Oliver and demanding truth in a messy cascade of emotion and accusation. It was a choice that was stunningly respectful of the character, allowing her both the opportunity to come to grips with everything around her to which she’d been blind and to demonstrate her faculties. Many have written Laurel off, but taking a moment to cast aside prejudice, one can see that they are doing strongly foundational changes to Laurel in the last few episodes to really give the character some heft. It’s adding meat to the bone and befitting of a character with second billing on the series and one supposed to have so much importance in this world.
To be fair, it was a bit disappointing that Laurel didn’t almost immediately associate Canary with Sara, knowing that Oliver was the Arrow. That can be forgiven, though, with the efficacy of the scene in the hospital where Laurel got to witness the journal of a hellish path her baby sister undertook in the numerous scars on her back. It wasn’t hard to think back to “Damaged,” when Laurel examined Oliver’s scarred torso for the first time. Allowing that made Sara’s actions make complete sense to her sister. That she thoroughly accepted what these two close people in her life are doing for the city was one of the strongest character decisions given to Laurel in the series yet. That led to a terrific character beat between Laurel and Oliver where she just offers him a hug at the steps of Verdant, which was already immediately preceded by this gorgeous moment where Oliver is staring at the picture of his family. Katie Cassidy did some spot-on work throughout the episode, and special attention should be given to the scene between Laurel and Quentin in the jail hospital after he was beaten.
One of the most solemn moments of the chapter was the exchange between Oliver and Sara on the island after he shoots and kills Ivo. Amell still manages to invest this Oliver with some youth to delineate between then and the present, but this Oliver is now broken in significant ways, edging ever closer to the one we saw at the start of the series. Taking the gun from Sara so that she didn’t have to have the blood of killing someone on her hands was a touching gesture, but it also had an intense inherent sadness knowing where Sara will eventually end up. Looking upon that cold Oliver, with the busted eye and the shaggy hair as he put two bullets into Ivo mid-sentence without wavering, carried a weight that not only gave more context to the series as a whole but really invested the wariness of present-day Oliver with extra charge. You can also see the logic of this Oliver to make that horrible choice to kill Slade rather than save him with Ivo’s believed cure for the Mirakuru.
“The Man Under the Hood” was precisely that, about Oliver and the gravity of his past, putting on that hood, and the ramifications for those closest to him. Quentin explains to Laurel that he gave up wanting to know the Arrow’s real identity because it would take away from his ability to do what Quentin needs him to do. That he can just imagine the family and people in his life he must hold at arms length to help out so many and not put them at risk. That not only made sense for Laurel, but also reinforced just what game Slade is playing here to get at his quarry. As terrific as last week’s “Deathstroke” was, this hour is head and shoulders better and serves to define the strategy and structure of this final run of episodes to set the finale up quite well.
Odds & Ends
- Though the show is quite often respectful of its audience’s intelligence and recall, sticking Emily Bett Rickards with that mouthful of exposition over the Clock King’s skeleton key during the break-in to both underline its importance and set-up the theft of it by Slade later on was unnecessary and unfortunate. Just mention it’s Tockman’s key and we’ll all get there. She was saddled with a few bits of clunky exposition this episode.
- Even with Kate Spencer’s warning to Laurel to pick the moments she uses her blackmail leverage, the DA seems awful quick to bend to Laurel’s will.
- Though I’m sure they’ll have more to offer in the pilot and likely series for The Flash show, Caitlin Snow and Cisco Ramone, based on DC characters Killer Frost and Vibe respectively, were kind of innocuous here and a bit grating with the cutesy dialogue.
- Speaking of Cisco, it was fun that they got to work in a device that gave him his Vibe-like powers, if only for one shot.
- Once again, Oliver needs to work on his lying. That motorcycle accident excuse will only go so far, especially when covering for the both of you.
- What in the world is Quentin doing in Iron Heights? Sure, they want to reuse sets for ease and cost, but his kind of arrest should have him in city or county jail, not the full-blown prison.
- For as character-focused as the episode was, it didn’t cheat us out of some truly fantastic action setpieces, specifically the fight with Slade in the foundry, and the stickwork between Oliver and Slade.