Arrow – Season 6 Episode 5
Arrow explores the backstory of Slade Wilson when he asks Oliver for help finding his son and delivers the long delayed reveal of Vigilante’s identity.
The relationship between Oliver and Slade has consistently been one of the more interesting things this show has to offer. It was established last season that the Mirakuru was the main cause of Slade’s vendetta against Oliver which was a clean way of resetting the relationship to something resembling friendship. I have my misgivings about that since it cheapens Slade’s arc in season 2 but for the purposes of getting the characters together without having them be at each other’s throats definitely has merit.
Oliver and Slade’s relationship has essentially been framed as Oliver helping an old friend with a problem which works to a degree as long as parts of their shared history are ignored. In season 2 Slade killed Moira in front of Oliver and Thea just to prove a point and shortly after began a campaign to tear Star -then Starling- City apart with his Mirakuru army; all of this was to get back at Oliver Queen for his role in the death of Shado. These are huge gestures that wouldn’t easily be forgotten so the only choice the show has to make this story work is to forget those events happened in some way. The implication is that Oliver understands that the Mirakuru was fuelling Slade’s decisions so has forgiven him for what happened. He may not have forgotten but he doesn’t blame Slade for it. The problem is that this robs Slade of any agency which invalidates a lot of what happened in season 2.
If that is pushed aside then what is accomplished here is really interesting stuff. Slade’s request for help links into Oliver no longer being Green Arrow by exploring what it means for Oliver to help someone without getting into costume. Lesser shows would use this as a justification for a “one last ride” sort of scenario that usually leads to a number of “just this once” promises that eventually culminate in the hero donning the costume once again. Refreshingly this is dodged by Oliver insisting that he helps as Oliver Queen rather than Green Arrow. Slade supports this by specifically asking for his help as Oliver and using his position as Mayor to give him access to certain situations that would normally be beyond him. A photo op is one example of something that Oliver Queen can do without getting into costume so it’s good that the show is sticking to its guns by preventing Oliver from suiting up.
There are several effective scenes between Oliver and Slade that draw on their history while bringing a new dimension to their relationship. Now they have fatherhood in common which allows for some interesting conversations about what that means for men like them. Oliver is turning his back on the vigilante life to be a good father to William which is something that Slade respects considering he gave him the advice that a man can”t live two lives forever back in the first episode of the season. Slade’s entire reason for asking Oliver for help is to rescue his son but his approach is to make sure he’s safe without him ever knowing that his father was the one to do it. Oliver questions him on this but Slade insists that it’s better he has nothing to do with his son. Considering what we know about Slade’s life it makes sense that he would think that way but Oliver makes a case for a son being better off with his father in his life.
This pays off with Slade’s note to Oliver after knocking him out. He thanks Oliver for reminding him that he is a father and changes his approach in his attempt to rescue his son. Instead of operating unseen from the shadows he stages a direct assault that makes for one of the most impressive action sequences in recent memory. Slade has already been a brutal combatant and this definitely comes across here as he tears his way through the guards between him and his son. It’s great to see him in action and it fits with the arc that Slade goes through. The reveal that it was all for naught because his son is in charge of the organisation known as the Jackals really stings because we know how difficult it was for Slade to fully involve himself. It’s also clear that he never wanted the life he had for his son so the reveal has a lot of emotional heft to it.
Oliver being torn over whether to go with Slade links into his difficulty adjusting to a normal life. Under normal circumstances he would leap into action and help Slade with whatever he needed but now that William is in the picture he can’t do that. Felicity gives him permission to go because she trusts that he won’t fall into bad habits and knows that he’ll beat himself up about the fact that he didn’t help a friend when he had the chance. Of course he ultimately decides to go and the moment where he puts his support behind Slade is really well done as it comes when Slade is about to give up on Oliver coming to help and leave. The look of hurt and disappointment he gives when resigning himself to the fact that he has to do this alone says everything about Slade’s mental state at this point. He’s driven yet vulnerable and really needs the support of a friend more than anything else. When Oliver comes through for him he’s genuinely grateful.
After a few weeks without flashbacks they return this week to flesh out the relationship between Slade and his son. They serve to highlight the regrets Slade has letting his career get in the way of things. Manu Bennett delivers a wonderfully nuanced performance showing the inner turmoil Slade experiences while casually lying to his son about what he does for a living. While it’s good to see a gentler side of Slade and receive some insight into his pre Lian Yu life they also go on a bit too long and feel somewhat repetitive very quickly. This is a multi part story where there wasn’t enough content to fill part 1 which means that the flashbacks were padded out and that padding can definitely be felt.
After a long wait we finally learn the identity of Vigilante and I’m not sure that it would have been possible to predict. The producers pointed out that it would be someone that we knew and the truth barely qualifies. Revealing that under the mask he is Dinah’s former partner Vincent Sobel (Johann Urb) is a shock for Dinah but less so for the audience who have no real idea who he is. This marks yet another example of a dead -or believed dead character- coming back which cheapens the threat level on this show since nobody ever seems to die. Not to mention that the loss of her partner was a life changing experience for her which has now been undone.
Not that it’s a fruitless decision because it does give Dinah a lot more to do than disapprove of Diggle’s decision to keep secrets from the team. Juliana Harkavy rises to the challenge given to her in playing Dinah overwhelmed by conflicting feelings. On one hand she’s pleased that Vincent is alive but on the other she can’t believe that he would become what he has. It’s a lot to process for her and Diggle is the right sounding board as he has had to deal with people returning after he had made his peace with the fact that they’re dead. Juliana Harkavy’s performance anchors these scenes and it’s really fascinating stuff. It’s something that already interferes with her duties on Team Arrow as she lets him go which suggests that there will be further complications later on.
Vincent isn’t all that well defined and it doesn’t seem like there is much more to Vigilante after this but if him popping up now and again creates personal issues for Dinah then it could prove to be worth it. It’s also possible that there will be flashbacks exploring their partnership to make this reveal feel a little more relevant.
Bizarrely Diggle barely suits up as Green Arrow in this episode which is great for Dinah who gets to take the lead on the action but also wastes an episode of development for Diggle as team leader. I assume that it’s a temporary relationship so it’s concerning that the writers aren’t taking full advantage of the opportunities that this brings to the show and Diggle as a character.
Samanda Watson continues to be a fascinating thorn in the side of Team Arrow. She clearly knows a fair bit of the truth but can’t prove it and is looking to trip up those closest to Oliver Queen in any way she can. This begins with her interviewing Diggle and apparently he manages to put the issue to bed. It’s curious that we don’t see this interview as it felt like something was missing from the episode when it was skipped. If we had seen it and it had gone poorly it would show that Diggle’s outward confidence is less than genuine and somewhat develop his fall from grace as Green Arrow.
Felicity’s conversation with Samanda is surprisingly brief but I liked the contrast between her relentless interrogation technique and Felicity’s flippant attitude. It was good enough to carry more time than the episode allowed it and I hope it isn’t the last time interviews like this happen.
The interesting thing about this subplot is how Samanda is putting the pieces together. She all but knows Diggle has assumed the Green Arrow mantle and sees Oliver’s relationship with Felicity as an obvious alibi for where he spends his nights. Dinah is on her radar following the events of this episode as she notices her disappearance during Vigilante’s attack. Samanda is a very smart antagonist and I can see this going one of two ways. The most obvious is that she dies shortly after finding proof of the truth though I think it’s more likely that she’ll experience something that makes her realise that Team Arrow are needed and she drops the investigation. It would make for a similar arc to Quentin’s way back when the show started but if handled properly it could work well.
An interesting episode that had a lot of problems. Exploring Slade Wilson’s backstory is certainly welcomed though it’s difficult to accept that Oliver would ignore everything he did before. The implication is that he accepts Slade wasn’t in control of his actions which cheapens Slade’s entire season 2 motivation. Despite that there is some really good stuff here and the use of flashbacks to flesh out Slade’s relationship with his son was a good idea even if they got a little repetitive after a while. Manu Bennett’s presence always allows for excellent action sequences as well.
The reveal of Vigilante’s identity is great for Dinah but not so great for the audience as he is a character barely seen before. Dinah’s relationship with him has only been referenced in dialogue so it isn’t something the audience can invest in. Juliana Harkavy delivers her best performance to date and the opportunities it brings for the character are definitely intriguing but I’m not sure how well it’ll work without the prior investment. I liked seeing Dinah take the centre stage with the action but it was an entire episode without seeing Diggle suit up as Green Arrow. Samanda continues to prove herself to be a capable antagonist as she slowly pieces the puzzle together which works really well as an ongoing subplot.
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